The proportion of people getting married in England and Wales has reached a record low. In 2005, just 21.6 women per 1000 singletons got hitched. That's the lowest proportion since records began in 1862, and is only half the post-1862 average; the fall seems to have started in the early 1980s.
This is weird because there's now strong evidence (pdf) that being married makes you richer, happier and healthier.
So why is there less marriage? Economics suggests several reasons, aside from the dull fact about it being more highly taxed:
1. Technical progress in home appliances means we need spend less time on housework. This makes it easier for single people to keep a home. A bloke doesn't need a housewife so much.
2. The increased number of women workers makes it easier for men and women to meet. This means the transactions costs of getting sex in the marketplace have fallen, so there's less need to get it through a contract; this is the Coasean argument.
3. The covariance between men's and women's earnings has increased, at least between the men and women who are likely to marry. This means marriage has become a less efficient way of spreading consumption risk. If the missus loses her job at the same time you lose your's, one value of marriage - risk-sharing - is lost. This is the downside of assortive mating.
4. People anticipate more uncertainty - say because the greater possibility of changing career or location in their lives increases the chance of their personality changing. This reduces marriage, because it increases the expected probability of the merger failing.
5. Increased inequality among men increases women's incentives to wait for Mr Right. This is just a natural application of real options theory. If there's more chance of a rich Mr Right coming along, women will hold onto their call option on marriage rather than exercise it early. Eric Gould and Daniele Paserman explain here (pdf).
6. Women's better employment prospects mean there's less need for them to marry to get a meal ticket. This paper shows that there's a strong relationship between good female labour markets and lower marriage rates.
You're right - there's not much romance in economics, is there?