Question of perspective

February 11, 2010

The Daily Mail is quite worked up because the number of marriages in England and Wales is “at its lowest level since 1862“.

Quoting figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Mail predictably attacks Labour for the decline – the report comes “as Gordon Brown’s Labour government faces mounting claims it has failed to support the institution” (what the Mail fails to mention is that most of these claims come from newspapers such as the Daily Mail).

The Mail explains: “Fewer people are getting married than at any time in more than 100 years, the Office of National Statistics revealed.”

But what’s this on the ONS website? Here the same report is published under the headline: “Registrations in England and Wales remain stable”.

This is because the figure of 232,990 registrations, used by the Mail (“A total of 232,990 couples tied the knot in 2008 – down from 235,370 in 2007”), is a provisional figure and is anticipated to rise by a further 1% as register offices and the clergy continue to send in marriage returns. The ONS make clear that the full figure for 2008 is almost certain to be the same as that for 2007 (and this is also true of marriages across the whole UK).

But because the number of unmarried adults has increased since 2007, the marriage rate has indeed declined.

So by reporting either the number of marriages (stable since 2007) or the marriage rate (lower than 2007), the story can be presented as either one of stability or decline. Guess which angle the Daily Mail chose?

And there is a second report on the ONS website, regarding divorces. This shows that the divorce rate in England and Wales is at its lowest level since 1979. So, by the Daily Mail’s logic, this is a triumph for Labour’s policies. Surprisingly, the Mail’s article on these figures fails to give any credit to Labour for the decline.

An example of having your (wedding) cake and eating it, too.

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