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Marriages in Bermuda were declining until the pandemic

For at least the last decade, when couples have said “I do”, there was a better than 50 per cent chance that neither of the newlyweds were from Bermuda.

Not only were the highest number of weddings carried out between two non-residents, but the number of residents marrying each other have been in steady decline, as have marriages overall.

It is no surprise that in 2020, as the pandemic set in and tourism shut down for much of the year, that non-resident or destination weddings dropped by more than 75 per cent, but unexpectedly, the number of weddings where each spouse was a resident rose from 153 a year earlier – the lowest since at least 2011 – to 172, the highest since 2016.

It is not clear if this is an anomaly or the reversal of a trend which has been going on for two decades.

The trend, recorded in the 2020 Report of the Registrar General, underlined that weddings in which both spouses are Bermuda residents have been steadily declining for the last decade, but this decline may have been masked by the popularity of Bermuda for so-called destination weddings.

In 2020, there was a total of 248 weddings, in itself the lowest in at least 20 years, and 138 fewer than the 386 recorded in 2019. Of that total, just 48 were between two non-residents compared to 195 in 2019 and 266 in 2018.

Marriages where one of the spouses was a resident also fell, from 38 in 2019 to 28.

But marriages between residents bucked a longstanding decline. There were 253 weddings between residents in 2012, but this slumped to 164 by 2017 and then fell again to 153 by 2019 before last year’s reversal.

Visitor weddings, by contrast were fairly robust. There was a peak of 310 in 2012 and since then they have ranged between 230 weddings and 270 weddings a year, before dropping to 195 in 2019 and then collapsing to 48 in 2019 as the pandemic wreaked havoc with travel.

Wedding planner Nikki Begg of Bermuda Bride said 2019 had been a “frightening” year for wedding planners as the number of weddings – and their size – fell dramatically.

Ms Begg said wedding bookings were still relatively slow now, but she was seeing an increase in bookings for October and November as well as for 2022 and 2023, which she said was unprecedented.

She said weddings that had been planned for 2019 had often been postponed until this year which in turn meant that weddings that would have taken place this year were being pushed into 2022 because wedding venues and service providers were already booked.

Ms Begg said the decline in local weddings could be attributed to the contraction of the Bermuda economy and to the decline in the number of people in the most common age groups for getting married – between 20 and 39.

According to the Bermuda Census, in 2000 there were 19,752 people in that age group. This had fallen to 17,113 by the time of the 2010 Census and to 15,456 by 2016 – a decline of 21.7 per cent in 16 years.

In that same time period, the total number of weddings steadily declined from 1,023 in 2000 to around 850 in 2007 at which point the drop became more precipitous in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the continued recession in Bermuda and elsewhere, hitting 386 in 2019 before the pandemic struck in 2020.

Ms Begg said she thought there had been a decline in young people coming to Bermuda to work in financial services and tourism as the economy changed, and this meant there were fewer other young people to meet.

She noted there were many more bars and nightclubs 20 years ago, and fewer opportunities to socialise and meet people.

“Companies tended to recruit young single people who would start work in Bermuda or come to Bermuda to work and meet someone and fall in love and get married,” she said. “Now there are fewer opportunities to meet other people.”

Canon John Stow of Holy Trinity Church in Hamilton Parish said that since he had been Rector, one third of weddings had tended to be local and in church, often with people whose families were longstanding church members, one third tended to be at another location such as a beach and one third involved visitors.

He said there had been a marked trend towards people getting married later and in some cases couples had been together for some years and had sometimes had children together.

“Often both people are single and have not been married before. They have thought long and hard before deciding to get married,” he said.

He said most people who came to the church for a wedding wanted a religious ceremony, but noted this was unsurprising. However, he said there were probably fewer church weddings than there were 20 years ago, a trend which was aligned with general declines in attendances in mainstream churches.

Gemma Harris, a clinical psychologist and Royal Gazette columnist, acknowledged that many of her clients remained unmarried into their 30s.

Noting that her clients tended to be professionals and did not necessarily reflect the whole community, she said many had difficulty meeting like-minded people in Bermuda. She also acknowledged that it was an occupational hazard that she saw more having relationship difficulties than people who were content with their partners.

She said: ”I see a lot of people in their 30s who want to settle down and get married but find it hard to meet the right person. Some people even feel the only way to meet someone suitable is to leave Bermuda.

“Perhaps this is because people are spending more time concentrating on their qualifications and establishing careers in their 20s, and then feel an urgency to find a suitable partner to reach their next goal of family.

“Clients anecdotally often refer to the ‘Peter Pan’ syndrome, which might be simply a modern phenomenon, linked to things like tinder and social media, but I can’t help but feel that the sunshine, party vibes and holiday atmosphere of Bermuda might contribute.”

Dr Harris, who is director of Director of Corporate Wellness Services at Solstice, a holistic wellness centre, said the idea that people can “have it all” may also lead to unrealistic expectations.

“In setting this expectation up, we try to juggle independence, careers, hobbies, friends and family and partners, and realistically, this might mean that something gives,” she said. “A lot of people I see – male and female – desperately want to meet a life partner (be that marriage or not) but feel they cannot find a like-minded soul. Largely that is about matching on commitment levels. Something doesn’t add up!

“With expectations rising though, often there are questions about how much compromise is normal or reasonable. Women who are financially independent are often more than comfortable waiting for someone that actually meets their expectations.”

As for why marriages rose last year, Dr Harris said she was uncertain of the cause, but speculated: “It may be that people had a lot of time on their hands to think and plan and maybe having something positive to focus on during a pandemic would have been protective.

“Plus living in a pandemic might change one's outlook on priorities.”

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Published July 09, 2021 at 9:17 am (Updated July 09, 2021 at 9:17 am)

Marriages in Bermuda were declining until the pandemic

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