The average age of first-time brides has reached 30, official figures show.
Women are walking up the aisle almost a decade later than their mothers did, as they enjoy more relationships and devote more attention to their careers.
In addition, many couples are choosing never to tie the knot, with the number of weddings is at its lowest level for more than a century.
Experts believe the data reflect the fact that marriage has simply become another “lifestyle choice” in recent decades, particularly for women who have far more options open to them than just raising a family, as they are now better educated and better paid than previous generations.
Simon Duncan, professor of comparative social policy at Bradford University, told a Sunday newspaper: “You no longer need marriage to prove that you are an adult, so there’s not the rush there used to be for young people.”
Data held by the Office for National Statistics show that in 1961, the mean age for first-time brides was 23.1 years old.
In 1976, around the time that the mothers of many of today’s brides would have married, the average age at first marriage was just 22.6 for women and 21.5 for men.
Many young people today are still at university at that age, particularly if they have taken gap years, while few will be worrying that they will be “left on the shelf” unless they commit to a long-term relationship.
By 2004 the mean age for first-time brides had reached 29.1 years and has been above 30 for all but one of the past seven quarters, reaching 30.1 in June last year.
The mean age for first-time grooms is higher still, at 32.2 years.
Meanwhile, only 235,370 couples were married in 2008, the most recent year for which ONS figures are available, the lowest number since 1895 when the population of England and Wales was far lower. Civil ceremonies in register offices and hotels now outnumber church weddings by two to one.
Christine Webber, a psychoanalyst, said: “Women now find themselves in this massive shop full of options, where they can choose education or a career or travelling.
“With young people thinking they’re going to live to 100, finding a husband is no longer going to be a priority.”
Is the average going to be 40 ten years from now? Hhmmm?