Catholic marriages hit historic low in increasingly secular Spain

Church weddings made up just 22% of country’s total in first half of 2016, new statistics show

Antonia Laborde

Alejandra Corsini and Alejandro Muñoz had a Catholic wedding. “We took it for granted that it would be a religious ceremony; we couldn’t imagine it any other way,” says Corsini, a 28-year-old architect who has only been to one civil marriage in her life. Her husband works as a lawyer.

Alejandra Corsini and Alejandro Muñoz on their wedding day.
Alejandra Corsini and Alejandro Muñoz on their wedding day.LIVEN

Corsini and Alejandro’s wedding vows were part of the 22% of religious weddings performed in Spain in the first half of 2016 out of a total of 68,560 marriages, according to the latest figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

The number represents a historical low in a country that is still predominantly Catholic. Jaén was the only province where a majority of couples opted for a Church wedding.

The Church has some very bad aspects but some very good sides too

Juan Tovar

Yet as recently as the early 2000s, three out of four Spanish weddings were still taking place in a Catholic church.

Corsini is sad to hear the figures.

“People are afraid of commitment. If you get married through the Church and later split up, you are not only failing your partner and yourself, you are also failing God,” she says.

She also suspects that economic factors could be playing a role. “A wedding is a very expensive thing. We always talked about the fact that we would get married when we both had stable jobs.”

An overall drop

Alfonso Pérez-Agote, a sociologist who wrote Cambio religioso en España: los avatares de la secularización (Religious change in Spain: the ups and downs of secularization) sees two major factors behind the drop in weddings in Spain in recent years.

The first is the economic crisis. The unemployment rate among under-30s in Spain is 34.4%.

“The transitional period from youth to adulthood has been pushed from 25 to around 30,” he says. “Now, when you have a boyfriend you don’t have a job, or you live with your parents, or you’re studying for a master’s degree because you can’t find work.”

Many Spaniards in their late 20s are still living with their parents.
Many Spaniards in their late 20s are still living with their parents.Luis Sevillano Arribas

The second factor is a shift in family culture. “Some youngsters say that a mortgage, not marriage, is their lifelong commitment,” he notes.

Now, Pérez-Agote feels that Spain is undergoing a third wave of secularization.

“Today’s youngsters are the children of people who have no interest in religion; when they think about getting married they don’t think about doing so through the Church, which feels alien to them,” he notes.

Juan Tovar, 31, has a date highlighted in his 2017 diary: September 9, his wedding day. He and his fiancée, Ximena Gutiérrez, are non-practicing Catholics, but they always “took it for granted” that they would have a Church wedding.

“I am completely unaffected by the low rate of Church weddings,” says Tovar. “I think that all the information coming out in the media is stigmatizing the Church. It has some very bad aspects, but some very good sides as well, yet people tend to remember the bad.”

A wedding is a very expensive thing. We always talked about the fact that we would get married when we both had stable jobs

Alejandra Corsini

Tovar works in the pharmaceutical industry, and has had to deal with more than one remark of the type: “You mean, people are still getting married these days?” Yet he has felt no rejection after telling people that he is planning a Catholic wedding.

Neither did Corsini. “But they looked at me funny, like when I say I can’t join them for brunch on Sunday because I have to go to Mass.”

What surprised people the most, however, was hearing that she and her fiancé were not living together.

“They always said, ‘You’ll see, people change after marriage,’ and things like that,” she explains. But a year-and-a-half after saying “I do,” Corsini reports that she is still happily married.

English version by Susana Urra.

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