There are now a record number of unmarried adults in the UK, with one in six people cohabiting, figures have disclosed, with 53 the most common age for divorce.
According to new figures from the the Office of National Statistics (ONS), married couples now make up less than half the population with the trend for marriage is steadily declining. In Ireland, one couple in eight cohabits.
Couples also appear to be choosing to separate increasingly later in life, with 17.6 per cent of all 53-year-olds now divorced, the Daily Telegraph reports.
The age at which the highest proportion of the population is divorced has risen dramatically, from 35 in 1971 to 40 in 1991 and 52 in 2009. It rose again in the 12 months to 2010 to 53. This may be partly due to the fact that couples are also getting married later.
The high proportion of 53-year-olds who were divorced, when compared with 12.3 per cent of 40-year-olds in 1991 and just 2.1 per cent of 35-year-olds in 1971 was a reflection of the ageing population as well as rising divorce levels, the ONS said.
Equally, as fewer couples are choosing to marry, the divorce rate appears to be finally starting to drop. Slightly under 114,000 couples were granted a divorce in 2009, the lowest figure since 1974.
The ONS suggested that there were fewer divorced men than women overall because men were more likely to remarry than women.
Fewer marriages and the long-term rise in divorce rates also partially explains the slight drop in the numbers who are widowed, down to 3.1 million from 3.5 million in 2001.
The report said that 51.9 per cent of the adult population were single, divorced or widowed.
"One of the main reasons for the decrease in the married population and the increase in the single population is the growth of cohabitation by unmarried couples,” it said.
"In the early 1960s in Britain fewer than one in a hundred adults under 50 are estimated to have been cohabiting at any one time, compared with one in six in 2010."
The number of couples getting married has been steadily declining since the 1970s.
Anastasia de Waal, of the Civitas think-tank, said: "When interpreting these statistics it's crucially important to factor in the gap between what couples want to do and what they are doing in practice.
"Attitude surveys repeatedly show us that the majority of young people today would like to marry, an aspiration which is notably highest amongst cohabiting couples.
"In harder times, many couples feel that they are not able to afford the requisites – not so much the wedding itself, but things such as owning a home and a car.
"As such, steady rises in unemployment and the cost of living over recent years may well be a key contributor to a continuing drop in the number of married couples."