I was about to give myself a long lunch break when my daily statistics release email came through from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (yes, we all know I’m a nerd) and top of the list was the marriage stats release for 2021! This is two whole weeks earlier than usual! Here’s my thoughts, stream-of-consciousness style, as I review the stats for the first time.

Overall marriage numbers were below pre-pandemic levels again, which is unsurprising given the Delta-wave lockdowns in Victoria and New South Wales. 89,164 couples married in 2021, compared with the record low of 78,989 in 2020 (2021 numbers 12.9% higher than 2020) and the last pre-pandemic count of 113,815 in 2019 (2021 numbers 21.7% lower than 2019).

Low numbers were particularly seen in New South Wales (27,311 marriages: 31.0% lower than 2019, 2.1% lower than 2020) and Victoria (18,738 marriages: 34.6% lower than 2019, 12.7% higher than 2020), which is entirely unsurprising. New South Wales was the only state that actually had less weddings in 2021 than in 2020. Marriage numbers in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory almost returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Monthly numbers are also interesting: usually we see strong seasonal peaks in autumn and spring. In 2021 the first half of the year saw numbers almost back to normal, then they fell off a cliff (although not as dramatic a cliff as April 2020) with the June lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria. August was a particularly quiet month for marriages last year, with 2,981 marriages compared to 4,636 in 2021 and an average of 6050 in the years 2015-2019. While New South Wales was in lockdown, only 327 marriages occurred in July and 153 in August. While Victoria was in lockdown, the worst month was September, with only 174 marriages occurring, 91% lower than pre-pandemic levels!

Although numbers were lower than pre-pandemic, characteristics of marrying people remain stable: median age for men to marry was 32.1 years, median age for women to marry was 30.5 years, and 80.7% of all marriages were officiated by civil celebrants (remember that includes the State and Territory Registry Offices).

Same-sex marriages represented 3.2% of all marriages occurring in Australia in 2021, with more female couples marrying than male couples. The median age for same-sex couples marrying remained higher than the general population, but lower than same-sex couples in previous years. Note: although I usually call these couples “marriage equality couples” because there may be, e.g., a woman marrying a non-binary person, therefore not being same-sex, the ABS doesn’t include marriages where one or both parties ticked the X or Non-binary box on their marriage paperwork. They say this is for “confidentiality reasons”. I have always found this weird and would love an explanation as to what exactly is being kept confidential in a list of statistics… if we have any statistics-savvy celebrants out there, I’d love to talk to you about this!

Divorce numbers rose in 2021: 56,244 divorces were granted, up 13.6% from 49,510 in 2020. Apparently this is partly due to administrative changes at the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to increase finalisations and reduce timeframes, which meant more applications could be finalised than previous years and allowed the Courts to reduce a backlog. So we can’t really compare those numbers with any confidence; we’ll need to wait until next year to see what the 2022 divorce data looks like to see if the numbers are really changing. There’s also a reminder in the analysis that divorces can only occur after at least 12 months’ separation in Australia, so only a small proportion of the 2021 divorces granted relate to separations that occurred after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And that’s my initial thoughts! Let me know if you have any specific questions you’d like me to dig around and see if I can answer!