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Britain's Prince William and Kate are the exception, not the rule

As the upcoming royal wedding dominates the UK media, statistics show that many young Brits are choosing to delay marriage. At the same time, fewer of those who have already taken their vows are filing for divorce.

Prince William and Kate Middleton

William and Kate are joining an increasingly exclusive group

Just days ahead of Britain's highest-profile royal wedding in decades, concerns have been raised about the state of the institution of marriage throughout the rest of the country's population.

UK officials recently examined statistics on marriage in the country going back well over a century. What they found surprised them: 2009 saw the lowest number of marriages in Britain since 1865, when the government began recording such statistics.

The figures have caused alarm in some circles. Jenny North of Relate, a charity that offers counselling to couples, has observed a similar trend in the UK as has long been the case in the US.

"Whereas in previous years, people saw marriage as the first thing you did in adult life, people now see it almost as the last thing," she said. "So you've got to wait until you've got your house, your job at the right stage of progression, maybe you've got kids already, and your relationship is 'perfect' as well and then you marry."

The problem is that not all people are able to achieve the economic success they feel they need to before tying the knot.

The trend that Jenny North has observed is backed up by the official figures, which show that more couples in Britain are cohabiting and delaying marriage.

A slow but steady drop

Just 265,000 people got married in 2009 - the last year for which figures are available. And the numbers have been falling since 1972, when marriage peaked. Four decades ago, the figure was close to 500,000.

And it seems it's not just first marriages that have been falling either. The latest numbers also show that fewer divorced people are choosing to remarry.

But judging by the British media hype in the lead up to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, you wouldn't know that more people are saying "I don't."

A wedding band is placed on a woman's hand

Fewer Brits are opting for the security of marriage

One breakfast television show has organized a mass wedding in which 50 couples are planning to exchange vows to commemorate Prince William and Kate's big day.

Unrealistic expectations

But some, like Jenny North of Relate, think that young Brits have unhealthy and unrealistic beliefs about getting hitched.

"In terms of the wedding day itself, sadly, I think our expectations as a country are way too high - given that the huge amounts of money that people spend on weddings," she said. "It's great if you can afford to spend that much money. But starting off marriage in debt is perhaps not the best start for a partnership."

And while it may be a cliché, North is quick to point out that the glamour at the alter only lasts for one day - and making a marriage last is down to good old fashioned hard work.

"When you look at couples that have been married for 60 years, they always say, we've had our ups and downs, we've had our arguments," she said. "The secret is we know how to solve those arguments, we know how to compromise. And we know how to put those arguments behind us and not let them fester."

While the number of marriages is falling in the UK, there may by one sign of hope - the number of divorces in Britain has also hit its lowest level in nearly three decades.

Author Nik Martin, London / pfd
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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