Marriage and divorce statistics

Data extracted in June 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: June 2017.
Figure 1: Crude marriage and divorce rates, EU-28, 1970–2011 (1)
(per 1 000 inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat (demo_nind) and (demo_ndivind)
Table 1: Crude marriage rate, selected years, 1960–2014
(per 1 000 inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat (demo_nind)
Table 2: Crude divorce rate, selected years, 1960–2014 (1)
(per 1 000 inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat (demo_ndivind)
Table 3: Live births outside marriage, selected years, 1960–2014
(share of total live births, %)
Source: Eurostat (demo_find)

This article presents developments that have taken place in relation to family formation and dissolution through an analysis of marriage and divorce indicators. Marriage, as recognised by the law of each country, has long been considered to mark the formation of a family unit. However, the analysis of trends in family formation and dissolution based on just marriage and divorce data might not offer a full picture. Legal alternatives to marriage, like registered partnership, have become more widespread and national legislation has changed to confer more rights on unmarried couples. Recent demographic data show that the number of marriages per 1 000 persons decreased within the EU-28 in recent decades, while the number of divorces increased. An increase in the proportion of children who are born to unmarried couples was also apparent.

Main statistical findings

Fewer marriages, more divorces

Some 2.1 million marriages and 986 thousand divorces took place in the EU-28 in 2011, according to the most recent data available for all EU Member States. These figures may be expressed as 4.2 marriages for every 1 000 persons (in other words the crude marriage rate) and 2.0 divorces for every 1 000 persons (in other words the crude divorce rate).

Since 1965, the crude marriage rate in the EU-28 has declined by close to 50 % in relative terms (from 7.8 per 1 000 persons in 1965 to 4.2 in 2011). At the same time, the crude divorce rate increased from 0.8 per 1 000 persons in 1965 to 2.0 in 2011. Part of this increase is due to the fact that in several EU Member States divorce was legalised during the period (for example, in Italy, Spain, Ireland and Malta).

Table 1 shows that in 2014 the crude marriage rate was highest, among those countries for which data are available, in Turkey (7.8 marriages per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (7.6), Malta and the the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (both 6.7). The lowest crude marriage rates were reported in Portugal and Luxembourg (both 3.0 marriages per 1 000 persons).

As regards divorce, in 2014 (earlier years for some EU Member States due to data availability), Ireland (0.6 per 1 000 inhabitants, 2012 data) and several southern or eastern Member States — Malta (0.8), Italy (0.9), Slovenia (1.2), Croatia (1.4, 2013 data), Greece (1.5, 2013 data) and Bulgaria (1.5) — had the lowest crude rates. By contrast, divorce rates were higher in several northern Member States, notably Denmark (3.4 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants), Lithuania (3.3) and Latvia (3.1). Among the EFTA countries, candidate countries and potential candidates, crude divorce rates in Bosnia and Herzegovina (0.6, 2012 data), Kosovo (0.7, 2012 data), Montenegro (0.9), Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (both 1.1) were also relatively low, while none reported particularly high rates, with a peak of 2.4 (2012 data) being recorded in Liechtenstein.

A rise in births outside marriage

The proportion of live births outside marriage in the EU-28 in 2012 was 40 %. This share has continued to increase, signalling new patterns of family formation alongside the more traditional pattern where children were born within marriage. Extramarital births occur in non-marital relationships, among cohabiting couples and to lone parents.

In 2014, extramarital births outnumbered births inside marriages in several EU Member States: Bulgaria (58.8 %), Estonia (58.4 %, 2012 data), Slovenia (58.3 %), France (56.7 %, 2012 data), Sweden (54.6 %), Denmark (52.5 %) and Belgium (52.3 %, 2012 data), as well as in Norway (55.5 %). An even higher proportion of live births outside of marriage was registered in 2012 in Iceland (66.9 %). Mediterranean countries like Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy and Malta, along with Poland and Lithuania, were generally at the other end of the scale as more than 70 % of births in each of these Member States occurred within marriage; in Turkey this share was as high as 97 %.

The share of children that were born outside of marriage increased in the EU-28 from 27.3 % in 2000 to 40.0 % in 2012 (see Table 3). Looking at the latest available data, extramarital births increased in almost every EU Member State in 2014 compared with 2013 (2012 compared with 2011 for some Member States), with the exceptions of Estonia (2012 compared with 2011), Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria.

Data sources and availability

Eurostat compiles information on a wide range of demographic data, including data on the number of marriages by gender and previous marital status and statistics relating to the number of divorces. Data on the number of live births according to the mother’s marital status may be used to produce an indicator that shows the proportion of births outside marriage.

Context

The family unit is a changing concept: what it means to be a member of a family and the expectations people have of family relationships vary with time and space, making it difficult to find a universally agreed and applied definition. Legal alternatives to marriage, like registered partnerships, have become more widespread and national legislation has changed to confer more rights on unmarried and same sex couples. Alongside these new legal forms, other forms of non-marital relationships have appeared, making it more difficult for statisticians to collect data within this domain that can be compared across countries.

Due to differences in the timing and formal recognition of changing patterns of family formation and dissolution, these concepts have become more difficult to measure in practice. Analysts of demographic statistics therefore have access to relatively few complete and reliable data sets with which to make comparisons over time and between or within countries.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Main tables

Crude marriage rate (tps00012)
Crude divorce rate (tps00013)

Database

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)