Fewer marriages, more divorces last year

Sociologists and counsellors said that as Singaporeans spend more years in education and building their careers, more are also marrying at a later age. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO
Sociologists and counsellors said that as Singaporeans spend more years in education and building their careers, more are also marrying at a later age. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Number of those who wed the lowest since 2010; number of divorces highest in 20 years

When it comes to love and marriage, more couples are not going the distance.

Significantly fewer couples tied the knot last year, while the number of those ending their marriage was the highest in at least 20 years.

There were 25,434 marriages last year, about 6 per cent lower than the 27,007 couples who said "I do" in 2018.

In fact, the number of couples who married last year was the lowest since 2010, when 24,363 couples registered their marriages.

Meanwhile, 7,623 couples divorced or annulled their marriages last year, up by about 4 per cent from the 7,344 couples who went separate ways in 2018.

The number of couples who divorced or annulled their marriages last year was the highest in at least 20 years. In 1999, 5,314 couples ended their marriages.

The data was from the Statistics on Marriages and Divorces 2019 report that the Department of Statistics released yesterday.

Sociologists and counsellors note that as Singaporeans spend more years getting an education and building their careers, more are also marrying at a later age.

The median age at first marriage for men rose from 29.8 years in 2009 to 30.4 years last year, while it went up from 27.5 years in 2009 to 28.8 years last year for women.

About three in four marriages last year were the first for both husband and wife.

And the number of inter-ethnic marriages continues to rise: About 23 per cent of all marriages were between couples of different races last year, up from about 18 per cent in 2009.

  • More seniors saying 'I do'

  • The number of seniors tying the knot has been increasing steadily in the past decade.

    Last year, 514 men aged 60 and older wed - almost 60 per cent more than the 324 grooms in that age group in 2009.

    A total of 124 women aged 60 and older became brides last year, almost triple the 46 in 2009.

    More than half of the seniors aged 60 and older who wed last year are divorcees.

    The rest are either single or widowed, according to the data contained in the Statistics on Marriages and Divorces 2019.

    This was published by the Department of Statistics and released yesterday.

    Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said more seniors are marrying as they are still physically and financially healthy even at an older age.

    Focus on the Family principal counsellor Theresa Pong said another reason is that senior citizens have a strong desire for companionship, and that age is less of a barrier to marriage to them than one's perception of the quality of marriage and relationship.

    She added: "While culture is evolving, what remains timeless and key to resilient marriages is that couples are able to communicate their expectations and needs and are committed to working through conflict and differences in every life stage."

    Meanwhile, though most grooms are older than their wives, more women are marrying younger men.

    The proportion of first marriages where the bride is older than the groom rose from 16 per cent in 2009 to 18.3 per cent last year.

    Dr Tan noted that age is less of a barrier when it comes to marrying later these days for most couples, and that physical attraction and wealth could also compensate for age.

    There is also greater social acceptance of women marrying a younger men, he added.

    Theresa Tan and Goh Yan Han

Dr Ko Pei-Chun, lecturer at the Centre for University Core, Singapore University of Social Sciences, said attitudes towards marriage are shifting from traditional norms to more open ones, which could account for the larger number of inter-ethnic marriages.

Dr Ko said: "Increasing inter-ethnic marriages may reflect the opportunities of cultural integration, which may enhance diversities of society in the long run."

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the fall in the number of marriages could be due to a variety of factors.

For example, the economy is not doing well and some couples feel they cannot afford to buy a flat and settle down.

More couples may choose not to marry, but co-habit instead.

He said: "There is a shift in social values towards approval of cohabitation."

Meanwhile, the number of married couples calling it quits is rising.

The median length of marriages among couples who divorced last year was 10.4 years, up slightly from 10.1 years in 2009.

Besides the greater acceptance of divorce, there are multiple reasons why divorces are on the rise, those interviewed said.

Focus on the Family's principal counsellor Theresa Pong said: "Many married couples, in the midst of balancing multiple responsibilities and roles, would place their marriages on the backseat, putting greater priority on other aspects of life such as career, finances and even parenting.

"Without intentional effort in investing in the marital relationship, this can often lead to an increase in unmet expectations between couples and a variety of marital issues that may result in divorce."

With fewer marriages and more divorces, the number of babies born could drop even more as Singapore struggles with a persistent baby drought and a rapidly ageing population, those interviewed said.

To reduce the number of divorces, counsellors said, more needs to be done to prepare couples for marriage or to counsel couples in crisis.

Ms Keely Ng, a 27-year-old partnership executive in a charity, married compliance officer Phua Tai Wee, 32, last year.

The couple met during a Muay Thai class and dated for about two years before saying "I do".

Ms Ng has three siblings and she basks in the warmth and interaction found in a large family.

She hopes to have two or three children and to expand her family in the near future when she is still young and energetic. She said: "We feel we are ready (for marriage) as we share the same goals and dreams."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2020, with the headline 'Fewer marriages, more divorces last year'. Print Edition | Subscribe