MANILA, Philippines - Marriage is losing its luster for many in the Philippines, with an increasing number of couples starting families out of wedlock, the government census office said on Friday.
More than 37 percent of the 1.78 million babies born in Asia's Roman Catholic outpost in 2008 had unmarried mothers, it said in a statement, citing results of the latest population census.
This was 12.5 percent higher than the previous year, and compared with a 2.0 percent increase for all births, the census office said.
A growing number of Filipinos now treat marriage as an option, rather than a requirement, for starting families, said Nene Baligad, a member of a unit of the National Statistics Office that licenses people who officiate weddings.
"Nowadays, some couples just live in and only get married after having four or five children," she told AFP.
"You can't really say it's for practical reasons, since you can be married on the cheap. It's more like, we Filipinos tend to follow what is in fashion."
Eight out of 10 Filipinos are Catholic, and the Philippines is one of only three territories in the world, along with Malta and the Vatican, where divorce remains illegal.
However the census showed that many couples were defying the nation's powerful Catholic bishops by not only on having babies out of wedlock, but also by shunning church weddings.
Marriages either solemnized by the church or by government officials fell 0.7 percent to 486,514 in 2008, according to the census.
Just over a third of couples were married in Catholic ceremonies, while four in 10 chose civil rites officiated by a person licensed by the census office.
Manila couple Alvin Ruiz, 24, and his girlfriend, Joann Lopez, told AFP as they visited the Manila Zoo that they started living in together four years ago and now had a three-year-old son.
"Instead of spending for a wedding, we used the money to buy infant milk," said Ruiz, who earns a living by buying used cooking oil from restaurants then selling them to companies that turn them into fuel for motor vehicles.