Late last week the future of marriage in
this country was questioned in parts of the media as the general marriage rate fell to an all-time
.  In 2010, there were 12.5 marriages for every 1000 people who weren’t married,
the lowest rate since records began in the early 1960s.  (The Statistics New Zealand report can be
found here.) The absolute number marriages last year was 20,940, less than 2009, but not
the lowest number ever recorded, contrary to what the media breathlessly
reported. (By my count there were eleven years since 1992 which recorded fewer
marriages than in 2010.)

However, the fact remains that marriages have become
less common in NZ over the past forty years; that the median age at which people are
getting married has increased over the same period (by about nine years); and
that more and more people are living in de facto unions.  I do not think that these figures signal the
death of marriage in NZ (divorce rates are down slightly on last year, as is
the median age of marriage) but they again emphasis that New Zealand’s
population is living in a very different social situation from only a
generation ago. Interestingly, the amount of new civil unions registered last
year is about 1% of the amount of new marriages, suggesting that while people
may not be marrying at the same rate, they are not choosing to enter into civil
unions as an alternative. Instead, people seem to be either putting marriage
off or choosing to not formalise their relationships. I can imagine the cost of
the wedding day itself may be a disincentive, especially in these economic

Of course, is it really that
surprising that marriage is not seen in the same light as 40 years ago? Our
society has eroded any distinctive feature that marriage once had (at least
legally) – there is now no fault divorce and marriages can be
ended almost as easily as de facto relationships, while those in a de facto
relationship have similar rights to property as those in a marriage.  If there are fewer and fewer special
protections and privileges attached to the state of marriage, is it surprising that
fewer and fewer people can be bothered entering into that state? Unless,
of course, they think there is something more to it than that which the law

On another note, those of you interested in the United
States’ demographic outlook (which we have covered recently in relation to its
effect on economic outlook)
there is a website that you must check out. Demographic Intelligence, a website founded
by Dr Brad Wilcox, provides information on current and future fertility trends
in the States.  In April, the Demographic
Intelligence sponsored US Fertility
projected that US births would fall to 4.015 million in
2010.  Last week, the Centres for Disease
Control and Prevention released its preliminary figures and it turns out that the
actual number of births in the US last year was 4.007 million. Put another way,
the US Fertility ForecastTM was 99.8%
.  This number was 7 per cent lower than the
number of births in the US in 2007. However, according to the most recent
edition of US Fertility ForecastTM,
the number of births bottomed out in 2010 and will now rise for the next couple
of years at least.  If the US Fertility ForecastTM keeps getting its
predictions 99.8% accurate then maybe they should be doing some work on the UN
projections. At least they can’t be much worse at it than Greenpeace is for the

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...