MARRIAGES have fallen to their lowest level in a century and divorces are at a 25-year high.
New figures show the crude marriage rate dropped to 5.3 per 1000 people in 2001, the lowest level since Federation in 1901.
Australian Institute of Family Studies senior researcher Robyn Parker said younger Australians grew up in an era when family break-ups became common and were more cautious about commitment.
"It is something young couples tend to worry about and they put it off until they are as sure as they can be," Ms Parker said.
There were 55,300 divorces in 2001, more than in any year since 1976, when the advent of the no-fault divorce brought a flood of them.
The actual number of marriages—at 103,100—was the lowest since 1981, although it was still nearly twice that of divorces. However, the decline in marriages did not mean more people were choosing to remain single. Rather, they were marrying later and living together longer before taking the plunge.
The figures, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday, show the median age of marriage for grooms last year was about 29 (up from 24.4 in 1981) and 27 for brides (up from 22). Partly as a consequence, couples are also divorcing later, at around 42 years for men and 39 for women. Most couples now live together before they marry, with 72 per cent cohabiting in 2001 compared with just 31 per cent in 1981.
The results come after Federal Minister for Ageing Kevin Andrews called for incentives to entice couples to marry in their 20s in order to boost the fertility rate.
Ms Parker said many young couples wanted to complete their education, begin a career and be financially secure before they committed to marriage. However, there was also a shortage of successful married couples to act as role models, she said.