Research from The Marriage Foundation reveals that 47 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men aged twenty will never marry.
The report reveals a generational shift away from marriage as couples increasingly cohabit without ever taking the decision to commit.
The baby-boomer generation has maintained a healthy level of marriage, with 87 per cent of men and 92 per cent of women having married at some stage, but subsequent generations are facing a sharp decline in marriage rates.
Half of forty year olds today are already married, but they are not expected to reach the levels of set by their parents.
According to current trends, only 61 per cent of men and 68 per cent of women aged 40 today will ever marry. That is a decline of 26 per cent for men and 24 per cent for women.
However, the greatest decline in marriage has taken place among those in their twenties. In 1970, the peak year for marriage, 564,818 men and women aged 25 got married. In 2010, just 56,598 did, a fall of 90 per cent.
Today, only five per cent of men and ten per cent of women aged 25 are married, as compared to 60 per cent of men and 80 per cent of women forty-four years ago.
When the trends are applied to today’s 20 year olds, figures show that only 52 per cent of those men and 53 per cent of women are expected to ever marry.
Harry Benson, Research Director for the Marriage Foundation, commented: “What we’re seeing is the devastating trickle-down effect of the trend away from marriage.
“At the moment, we have high proportions of parents and grandparents who have got married at some stage and for the most part stayed together.
“They provide role models for the next generation, showing that most marriages can be successful with enough work, communication and dedication. They also show what can be gained from making a marriage work in terms of the stability it provides for a family.
“However, fewer of today’s forty year olds will be in a position to demonstrate the positives of a stable household cemented by marriage.
“Their children’s generation, currently in their twenties will suffer twofold; first from a higher level of family breakdown when they themselves are young and secondly from the lack of familiarity with the benefits of marriage as they look to start their own families.
“Let us not forget that the argument for marriage is not a moral or religious one, but based on concrete facts. Cohabiting couples account for only 19 per cent of parents but 50 per cent of family breakdown. Among parents who stay together until their children reach 15, a tiny seven per cent are cohabiting couples.
“A successful, stable cohabiting relationship between parents is of course a wonderful thing, but it is also very rare.
“The trend towards early cohabitation is at the root of the problem of a decline in marriage. Early cohabitation reduces the odds of getting married, partly because the act of cohabitation makes people less likely to want to marry and partly because so many cohabiting couples have children and then split, which makes future marriage involving stepchildren and stepparents less likely.
“It is a case of once bitten twice shy; if a cohabiting relationship breaks down, people are less likely to trust a future relationship enough to commit to it with marriage.
“Family stability remains the one most important factor for a child’s development. Children from broken homes are more likely to be implicated in truancy, juvenile delinquency and to suffer from mental health issues.
“It is vital that through relationship education and public discourse we counter the ongoing narrative against marriage, which is fuelled in part by the higher rate of divorce for celebrities and prominent public figures. We need to restore trust and confidence in marriage for the sake of generations to come.”
Family breakdown costs £50bn a year
When couples split up, families move from one to two households. Poverty is a common outcome that affects children. Six out of ten lone parents are supported by the state compared to one out of ten couple parents. That's where most of the £50bn is spent.