Marriage rate lowest since 1945

Last year, 72 thousand marriages were performed, almost twelve hundred fewer than in 2004. In 1999, nearly 89 thousand marriages were performed in the Netherlands. Since then, the number has declined almost continuously.

Number of marriages

The baby boom and the effects of marrying younger

In 1945, more than sixty years ago, the number of marriages also stood at 72 thousand. In the first years after the Second World War, many people who had postponed their wedding because of the war, got married. In the early sixties, the number of marriages gradually increased and peaked in 1970, when 124 thousand marriages were registered. The growth was partly due to the relatively large post-war generation who reached marriageable age. The average age at which people marry dropped, which also led to an increase.

Average age of women at first marriage

Strong decline in the 1970s

After 1970, the number of marriages dropped dramatically to 78 thousand in 1983, but subsequently rose again to nearly 96 thousand in 1990. The increase in 1990 was attributed to the relatively large number of children of the baby boom generation who got married. Since 1999, the number of marriages is again in decline.

Fewer people at marriageable age

There are three causes for the recent decline in the number of marriages. Firstly, the average age at first marriage has risen continually since the mid-1970s. In 1976, the average age of women who married for the first time was still under 23, whereas in 2005, partly due to the increasing cohabitation rate, the average age at first marriage for women had risen to nearly 30. 
Secondly, the number of people at a marriageable age dropped in recent years. Lastly, there is the possibility to opt for the registered partnership alternative.

Share of first marriage women by age, 1975-2005

Will they ever get married?

The trend to marry later in life also becomes manifest among the younger generations. Approximately 95 percent of women in the 50-65 age bracket are or were married. Research conducted by Statistics Netherlands shows that three-quarters of women now aged between 20 and 30 expect to marry at some stage in their lives. However, it is questionable to what extent their wishes will materialise. Half of 30-year-old women were still unmarried in 2006.

Carel Harmsen