Singapore

Marriages drop to nine-year low, record number of couples divorced

Experts cite poor economy as possible reason for fewer couples tying the knot

After dating for 10 years and being engaged for two of them, they were ready to tie the knot this year.

But Covid-19 came along, so Ms Melodee Tan and Mr Dominic Neo, both 29, will now wed in May next year.

Despite their long courtship, the couple said some of their peers still felt they were too young to be rushing into a lifelong commitment.

More people here are getting married later or not at all, marriage and divorce statistics released yesterday showed, as the number of marriages registered last year hit a nine-year low.

Couples are also finding it harder to go the distance as divorces hit a record level last year.

According to the Department of Statistics (SingStat), 25,434 marriages were registered last year. This was 5.8 per cent lower than the 27,007 marriages in 2018 and the lowest since 2010's 24,363 marriages.

Despite the drop last year, the annual average number of marriages registered in the last five years (27,389) was higher than the annual average registered between 2010 and 2014 (26,844), SingStat noted.

Still, the general marriage rates for men and women fell for the second straight year, and have also declined from a decade ago.

Last year, there were 40.7 marriages per one thousand unwed men aged 15 to 49, and 37.9 marriages per thousand unwed women in that age group.

In 2009, the general marriage rates for men and women were 43.4 and 38.9 respectively.

The median age at which people got married also rose from 10 years ago. For grooms, the median age at first marriage went up from 29.8 years in 2009 to 30.4 years last year.

For brides, it went up from 27.5 years to 28.8 years.

Marriage rates last year were the highest among those aged 30 to 34 - an upward shift in the peak age group for brides, which in 2009 was 25 to 29 year olds.

Meanwhile, the number of marriages that ended in a divorce or annulment went up by 3.8 per cent last year.

There were 7,623 marital dissolutions last year, the highest in at least 30 years.

Associate Professor Kang Soon-Hock of the Singapore University of Social Sciences said he did not believe the recent decline in marriages had much to do with people shunning it.

Instead, the gloomy economic outlook in 2018 and last year may have been a barrier.

He said: "Looking ahead, it is possible that marriage numbers may decline further in view of the Covid-19 pandemic."

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser also cited a poor long-term global economic climate and poor income and employment security as factors that could spell fewer marriages in future.

But he also noted that with shifts in societal values, relationships seen as less conventional could be more accepted.

The proportion of inter-ethnic marriages here last year rose to 22.9 per cent, while the proportion of first marriages involving brides older than grooms also rose from 16 per cent in 2009 to 18.3 per cent last year.

"Age could become less of a barrier," said Prof Tan.

Marriage counsellor and director of Relationship Matters Jean Chen agreed there is more social acceptance towards some unconventional marriages.

But this acceptance, a global trend, has been gradual and the idea of marriage has not changed drastically, she said.

Professor Jean Yeung, founding director of NUS' Centre for Family and Population Research, said the decline in the general marriage rate is a concern as it means the fertility rate is also likely to be lower.

Gender inequalities need to be addressed and the Government should reduce long working hours and increase flexible work arrangements, she said.

For Ms Tan and Mr Neo, the decision to get married was considered carefully .

Said Mr Neo: "We did not want to rush anything and we definitely did not want to be pressured into making decisions."

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