Perceptions of marriage over time
When marriage was defined in the Hyde Decision of 1866 it was described as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.” Nowadays, that seems both outdated and narrow in terms of what this union means to UK people. Our Family Finances report identified that a growing number of couples are shunning “traditional” marriage, instead finding different ways to live and be together.
Here, we take a look at how marriage has evolved since its inception, and how far we have come:
The first marriages in ancient Mesopotamia were very different from what we know today. Wives in this time were bought and sold in a “marriage market” and arranged by the couple’s parents. Brides were usually married between 14 and 18, while the grooms were between 20 and 30.
During the Enlightenment Age, people started to think more about what made them happy, and one of those things was marrying someone for love, not money. At this time, young people started having more money to pay for their own weddings, meaning they didn’t need to rely on their parents for approval and financial help.
After women got the vote and it became more commonplace for women to go to work, marriage has slowly changed to a more balanced partnership for both genders. Additionally, as time moved on and contraception became more widely available, couples could have more say on the number of children they chose to have.
In England and Wales, same-sex marriage was legalised in July 2013, with Scotland following suit in February 2014. Although same-sex couples were previously allowed civil partnerships, this finally levelled the playing field and gave gay and lesbian partners’ the same recognition.
Clearly, what marriage meant for the Mesopotamians is unlike your average couple in 2017. However, these unions have changed so much even in living memory. Marriages in the UK skyrocketed in 1940, with over 47 million people tying the knot1. Post-war, there was also the “baby boom”, where a record numbers of babies were born as couples felt more secure about the world they were bringing their children into. This was when the term “nuclear family” began to be used, as well at the stereotype of “2.4 children”.
Nowadays, there are so many different types of family unit. For example, there are now 1.9 million single-parent families in the UK, as having children becomes much less tied with being married. Additionally, there are more married couples that have decided to remain child-free (7.9 million with no children compared to 4.8 million with children) 2, further deviating from the more traditional marriage timeline and family structure of the past. This has prompted calls for further rights for cohabiting couples, as many do not realise their lack of entitlements, and in turn are not taking correct precautions when it comes to life insurance.
Another massively important moment for marriage was when same-sex couples were legally allowed to celebrate their love through marriage. The first same-sex couples to marry came at midnight on the 28th March 2014, including pairs that had been together for decades and were waiting for this historic moment. Famous couples who tied the knot after this ruling include Elton John and David Furnish, and Stephen Fry and his partner Elliott Spencer.
The Family Finances report found that 56% of cohabitees don’t think marriage is necessary. Additionally, a quarter of UK adults who cohabit say that they don’t expect to ever get married3. So, even the idea that marriage is part of the equation for everyone is becoming a thing of the past too. Despite tax benefits, some people just don’t see why they need to have a wedding, something that Brides Magazine estimates costs, on average, £30,1114.
The future of weddings could be very different, as we see advancements in tech, people’s attitudes changing, and the population growing. Couples often live together before saying their vows nowadays, and rituals such as the father-of-the-bride “giving her away” are being shunned as archaic.
The changes that have gone before have been positive steps, and the celebration of love and partnership we currently see is something to be truly cherished.
Aviva Family Finances Report 2017