Wednesday 9 July 2008

Wedding bells

NISRA has released its very detailed data on the marriages that took place in 2007 in Northern Ireland. As always, there are plenty of figures that can be interpreted in different ways, but there are also some that are quite unambiguous.

Of the 6,132 religious marriages in 2007, 52.6% were Catholic; 19% Presbyterian (including Free Presbyterian), 16% Church of Ireland, 3% Methodist and 9% ‘Other denominations’. This represents yet another small increase in the proportion that were Catholic (in 2006 it was 52.1%), and brings the Catholic percentage to its highest ever level. The corresponding proportions of Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, and Methodist marriages continued to decline.

The proportion of marriages that were religious remained quite stable compared with 2006: 70.6% in 2007, 70.4% in 2006. So the proportion of all marriages that was Catholic rose somewhat. The religions (if any) of those people who married in civil ceremonies is not recorded, so no concrete conclusions can be drawn.

However, the marriage statistics are prima facie evidence that the proportion of Catholics amongst those of 'marrying age' is increasing. Average marrying age is also shown in the NISRA Press Notice: 33 for men, 31 for women.

A few interesting nuggets contained in the last few tables of the Press Notice may provide some food for thought:

Of the 8,687 marriages, Northern Ireland was the normal place of residence of both bride and groom in 7,369 cases. Maybe, one might say, a Northern Irish person is marrying someone from outside, who may then come to live in Northern Ireland. But what can be made of the 596 marriages where both bride and groom are resident 'elsewhere in the UK'? Or the 218 where both bride and groom are resident in the south? In 9.4% of the marriages, therefore, neither bride nor groom lives in Northern Ireland! Is Northern Ireland experiencing a kind of 'wedding tourism'? Or are these marriages of Northern Irish émigrés who come home to marry, but not to live? The latter would seem to be the case, as the Press Notice also helpfully provides details of the place of birth of those marrying. For example, while there are 596 marriages of two people each resident 'elsewhere in the UK', there are only 120 marriages of two people each born 'elsewhere in the UK'.

So it appears that the marriage statistics cannot be used as an accurate measure of the breakdown of the actual resident population in Northern Ireland.

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