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Catholic Vancouver Dec. 19, 2018

Fewer couples saying ‘I do’: marriage prep officials

By Agnieszka Ruck

Archdiocese of Vancouver marriage preparation officials say the age of newlyweds is rising as fewer couples get married, reflecting national trends. (Michelle Karst photo / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

A recent study on marriage has found fewer Canadians are getting married, and those who do tie the knot are doing so increasingly later in life.

The Cardus study, which focused on Statistics Canada numbers on marriage from 1996-2016, echo what’s happening in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, where, as it turns out, Catholics are not immune to the same trends.

“We were trending numbers going down, ages going up,” said Tim Diewold, who worked in the archdiocese’s marriage preparation program from 2005 to 2016.

In the time he worked there, the number of couples getting married in local Catholic churches dropped by 16 per cent. The numbers are even more stark when reviewing the last 20 years.

From 1997 to 2017, the number of Catholic weddings in the archdiocese dropped 41 per cent.

“It’s fair to say that over the years, enrolment in marriage prep consistently went down,” said Teresa Aere, who worked for that program from 1986 to her retirement in 2016.

In the late 1990s, more than one thousand couples (including Catholics engaged to non-Catholics) were saying their “I dos” in Catholic churches across the Lower Mainland every year.

But since 2012, the wedding numbers in the archdiocese's annual Spiritual Report (which tracks this) haven’t managed to reach 700.

The archdiocese does not track ages of participants in its marriage prep program, but Diewold noticed a “clear” trend over the years of couples who were “more mature” and knowledgeable about finances and in other practical areas.

He guesses most couples were in their 30s and older by the time he left the job two years ago.

Aere also noticed the trend. “You could certainly pick out in the latter years who were the younger couples. They were very noticeable because the (overall) ages seemed so much more mature.”

The Cardus study found cohabitation is also on the rise, with 23 per cent of individuals aged 25-29 cohabiting in 2016, up from 17 per cent 10 years earlier.

It also found an increasing number of Canadians in their early twenties are living with their parents and that later marriages lead to couples starting families later in life. In 2010, more children were born to mothers in their late 30s than  in their early 20s.

Unsurprisingly, the archdiocese does not collect statistics on cohabitation, the number of Catholics living with their parents, or at the age at which they have children, so there is no way to know for sure if local Catholics are also falling in line with those national trends.