44% of births in Northern Ireland outside marriage
Almost half of births in Northern Ireland are taking place outside of marriage.
More than 10,000 children were born to unmarried mothers here last year, new figures reveal.
In places such as Belfast, the figure is nearer 60%.
The details emerged in a report examining population growth, published yesterday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
It found the population of Northern Ireland was estimated to be 1.852m as of June 2015. That is a rise of 11,100 people (0.6%) since mid-2014.
The report also found:
- Each of the 11 Local Government Districts experienced population growth, ranging from 0.2% in Derry City and Strabane to 1.1% in Lisburn and Castlereagh;
- A total of 24,215 births were registered last year - 12,493 males and 11,722 females;
- Births to teenage mothers reached a new record low (760), while births to mothers aged 35 and over continue to rise;
- More people are dying. At 15,548, the number of deaths registered in 2015 is the highest on record since the flu epidemic of 1999, and 870 more than in 2014.
- Cancer continued to be the leading cause of death in 2015, accounting for 28% of deaths;
- A total of 8,355 marriages and 89 civil partnerships were registered last year - roughly one every hour;
- Some 2,360 divorces and seven civil partnership dissolutions were granted in 2015.
The report shows a total of 10,570 babies were born to unmarried couples across Northern Ireland - around 44% of all births.
This ranges from 32% in Fermanagh and Omagh (452 births) to 60% in Belfast (2,716 births).
Rev David McLaughlin from Carryduff Free Presbyterian Church said it was an issue of "moral and spiritual concern".
He said: "Sadly, these statistics are a reflection of the times in which we live.
"There has been a huge departure from the teaching of the Scriptures and a denial of the universal, moral and spiritual application of the Ten Commandments."
A spokesperson from the Diocese of Down and Connor, part of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said: The statistics reflect the choices some couples and individuals make in their personal lives and the Catholic Church acknowledges that reality.
"The Church is eager to support parents in their hugely responsible role and to help them provide for the care and protection of their children in today's modern world."
Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, said the figures raised questions over the best circumstances to bring up children. He said: "While one keeps in mind the perfect ideal, it is important to respect all loving relationships that people choose and to respect fully the homes of children born out of wedlock," he said.
"I believe that children born outside the marriage bond, like those in the majority who still are born to a husband and wife, so often receive really profound and special parental love and care."
The report also examines what is driving Northern Ireland's continued population growth.
Almost 80% of the rise can be attributed to natural growth - more births than deaths.
Net inward migration - the number of people coming here to live exceeding the number leaving to live elsewhere - accounted for the vast majority of the rest.
In the 12 months to June 2015, there was a net population increase of 2,000 due to migration.