Commenting on the provisional totals for births, deaths and marriages registered in 2009, registrar general for Scotland Duncan Macniven said: “We saw the number of marriages drop to 27,524, their lowest level since Victorian times and the lowest rate per thousand population in records going back to 1855.”
Gay Hickey, spokesperson for Relationships Scotland, which provides counselling, mediation and family support to couples, said she was not surprised by the figures.
She added: “Marriage is getting less frequent because more people are living together and there is generally a lot more acceptance of co-habiting.”
Ms Hickey said there was also more support and acceptance of couples having children without getting married in the way that celebrities such as Edith Bowman have done. The DJ and her partner Tom Smith, lead singer of Editors, have a son Rudy.
Ms Hickey said: “There’s so much support and acceptance now which probably wouldn’t have been there 50 years ago.”
Another pattern that has become more common is co-habitation leading to marriage.
Ms Hickey said: “There is no tracking mechanism for this but a lot of co-habitating parents will go on to get married.
“It’s a lot more common now to have your children as bridesmaids and having a lovely time at mum and dad’s wedding.”
Kirstin Reeve, 33, and Martin McCabe, 28, who live near Kinross, are typical of this kind of couple. They have been living together for 16 months but do plan to get married.
“We have discussed marriage lightly,” said Kirstin. “We both come from families where our parents are still in their first marriage and both have views that if you get married, it’s forever and we therefore believe that too, there’s no going back.
“We will get married at some point but there’s no rush. Living together allows you to test drive. I’ve test-driven before and I wasn’t impressed. It looked great on the forecourt though.”
Marie-Claire Bradley, 33, a solicitor from Glasgow has taken a more traditional path. When she married boyfriend Ed, 33, last April and they moved into their new home, it was the first time they had lived together.
“We didn’t think about living together before we got married,” said Marie-Claire. “I guess I always had the romantic notion in my head that I wouldn’t live with someone before I got married. I know lots of people who live together but I never contemplated doing it.”
Marie-Claire said she believed the recession might have made fewer couples decide to get married.
“When we went hunting for wedding venues last year there was still availability, so I think people had decided to get married but postponed it to save up. People are maybe more materialistic these days and don’t put marriage as high up the list of priorities so that when money’s tight, it goes lower down the list.”
Yesterday’s figures also showed that the number of divorces had fallen to 10,131.
Mr Macniven said: “That was expected, because the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 reduced separation periods before divorce from May 2006.
So there was an increase of over 2,000 divorces in 2006 followed by decreases in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The average number of divorces in these four years is around 11,870 which is slightly higher than the levels recorded immediately before the law was changed.”
The figures also showed that the number of deaths in Scotland fell by more than 3% to 53,856 last year.
The figures show the country’s three “biggest killers” claimed fewer lives in 2009 than during the previous year. There were slightly fewer deaths from cancer in 2009, while deaths from coronary heart disease fell by almost 7% and deaths from strokes by more than 8%.
The figures also show that 59,046 births were registered in 2009 -- nearly 1,000 fewer than in 2008. That meant there were 5,190 more births than deaths during the year -- the largest natural increase in the population since 1991.