Love and marriage in England and Wales have drifted further apart than at any time since the days of the horse and carriage.

The Office for National Statistics said the rate of marriage in 2006 was 22.8 per thousand unmarried men aged 16 or older, and 20.5 per thousand women. That was the lowest since statisticians started keeping track in 1862.

The total number of marriages fell just below 237,000 during the year, the lowest total since 1895.

Those who are getting married also are older. The mean age of marriage for men was 36.4 years in 2006, up from 36.2 years in 2005; for women the mean age rose from 33.5 years to 33.7 years.

Since 1991, the agency said, the average age at marriage has increased by nearly five years for men and a bit over 4.5 years for women.

In addition, the traditional church wedding has fallen into increasing disfavor.

The number of religious ceremonies fell 7 percent to 79,490. That represents a 50 percent drop since 1991. There were twice as many civil ceremonies, but the total was down 3 percent compared with 2005, the agency said.