Statistics Explained

Household composition statistics


Data extracted in May 2022.

Planned article update: June 2023.

Highlights

In 2021, 197 million households resided in the EU with on average 2.2 members per household.
The number of single-person households without children in the EU increased by 28.5 % between 2009 and 2021.
Households with children Op2 (1).png

This article presents data on how the number and composition of households have changed in the European Union (EU) and in the EU Member States since 2009. It also reports on the trends for men and women living either as a couple, alone or in other type of household. Children’s presence in households is also given special attention.

The statistics in this article are based on the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS), one of the largest European household sample surveys.


Full article

Increasing number of households composed of adults living alone

In 2021, 197 million households resided in the EU with on average 2.2 members per household.

Figure 1 indicates that the largest average household size in 2021 was recorded in Slovakia (2.9 members), followed by Croatia (2.8 members) and Portugal (2.7 members), while the smallest was recorded in Sweden, Finland and Estonia (each with 1.9 members).

Between 2009 and 2021, the majority of EU Member States (23 out of 27) recorded a decrease in the average number of people per household. The largest decreases since 2009 were recorded in Estonia (from 2.4 to 1.9 members), Latvia (from 2.6 to 2.1 members) and Malta (from 2.9 to 2.5 members).

Figure 1: Average number of people per household, 2009 and 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhantych)


The total number of households in the EU rose by 9.5 % between 2009 and 2021. However, single adult households (i.e. households comprising only one adult, living with or without children) increased much faster, by 27.4 % in the same period (see Figure 2). This growth is even more pronounced in single adult households without children (+28.5 %). See Figure 3 to compare 2009 and 2021 data by presence of children.

Households comprising a couple (according to the legal marital status or de facto relationship), with or without children, registered a slower increase of 4.1 % since 2009. This increase is driven by the higher number of couples living without children.

Moreover, households with two or more adults (none of whom are living together as couples), also referred to as ‘other type’ of households in this article, decreased by 5.6 % between 2009 and 2021 in the EU. The decrease in this type of household is even higher for households with children (-11.8 %) than for those without children (-3.1 %).

Figure 2: Households by type, EU, 2009 - 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhnhtych)
Figure 3: Households by type and presence of children, EU, 2009 and 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhnhtych)


A main conceptual issue related to household statistics is the distinction between child and adult. In line with international standards, a child is defined as a household member aged less than 18 years. Respectively, an adult is a person aged 18 or above.

Relative differences in households for men and women, young people and older people

Regarding the change in the number of the adult population between 2009 and 2021, different patterns have emerged according to age and sex (see Figure 4).

Concerning single adults, both men and women recorded a higher number of people living alone for all age groups in 2021 compared to 2009. The growth was higher than 15 % for all categories.

For both men and women, the proportion of single adults increased faster than that of adults living in a couple. This finding is observed for men and women of all age groups, apart for women aged 65 or over for whom a higher increase was recorded for those living in a couple (+18.7 % for single women aged 65 or over against +33.2 % for women of the same age living as part of a couple).

The number of male adults living alone increased relatively more steeply than that of female adults, regardless of the age group (even though in 2021 men living alone were still fewer than women in most age groups, see below). Men aged 55-64 experienced the most significant increase between 2009 and 2021, of 72.4 %. For comparison, an increase of 34.4 % has been recorded for women in the same age category since 2009. Older men aged 65 or over living alone increased by 50.4 % in 2021 compared to 2009, while the corresponding increase for women in that age was 18.7 %.

Figure 4: Growth rate of the adult population in the EU by type of household, sex and age
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhindws)


In addition to these trends, 2021 data show differences at EU level regarding the proportion of adults living alone, in a couple or in other type of household (i.e. with another adult but not as a couple or with several adults) according to sex and age (see Figure 5).

More than 40 % of adults aged 18 years and above lived as a couple (42.3 % of women and 45.6 % of men, respectively). More than one third of women and men lived in other type of household (34.2 % and 35.5 %, respectively). Women living alone accounted for almost one quarter of the total number of women (23.6 %), while men living alone accounted for almost one fifth of the total number of male (18.9 %).

Looking at the young adults aged 18-24, 82.4 % of men versus 76.4 % of women lived in other type of household (e.g. with their parents/family or as flatmates). Another major difference among young people is that 9.9 % of females lived in a couple, while this was the case for 4.8 % of men in this age category.

In the EU, 39.8 % of women aged 65 or over lived alone compared with 20.0 % of men in the same age category. Some 4 out of 10 women (40.1 %) and 6 out of 10 men (61.7 %) lived as a couple, probably because women on average live longer.

Figure 5: Share of the adult population in the EU by type of household, sex and age, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhindws)

Presence and number of children

In 2021, the EU recorded an increase of 14.5 % in households without children and a decrease of 3.4 % in households with children, compared with 2009 (see Figure 6).

At national level, most countries (23 out of 26 with available data) recorded an increase in the number of households without children between 2009 and 2021. The highest increase was recorded in Malta (+65.7 %), followed by Luxembourg (+41.8 %), Cyprus (+39.4 %) and Sweden (+35.8 %). Only Slovakia (-1.6 %), Bulgaria (-1.9 %) and Greece (-7.4 %) had fewer households without children in 2021 than in 2009.

Regarding households with children, the trend is relatively different among the EU Member States. The number of households with children fell in 16 countries, with the largest decrease found in Lithuania (-21.7 %). It remained stable in Slovakia, and increased in 9 countries, including Luxembourg and Malta, where it increased by over 10 % (+13.7 % and +11.5 %, respectively).

Figure 6: Growth rate of households with and without children
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhnhtych)


The 2021 distribution of households shows that the proportion of households in which children live can vary considerably from one country to another (see Figure 7).

At EU level, around one quarter of households (24.4 %) included children. At the top of the scale, children lived in more than 30 % of households in Ireland, Slovakia, Cyprus, Portugal and Romania. By contrast, children were found in less than 20 % of households in Germany and Finland.

Around two thirds (64.0 %) of households with children at EU level comprised couples. In the majority of EU countries, this is the most common type of household with children. Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Greece recorded the highest shares, with couples representing more than 70 % of the total number of households with children. Bulgaria and Latvia showed the lowest shares, with less than 50 % of households with children being couples.

The highest shares of single parents among households with children in the EU were found in Estonia, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia (all with more than 20 %). Slovakia, Croatia, Greece and Slovenia had the lowest proportions of single parents (all recording a percentage less than 5 %). In the whole European Union, single parents accounted for 12.6 % of households with children.

Other type of households represented less than one quarter (23.4 %) of total households with children at EU level. This share varied widely among the EU countries: from more than 35 % in Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia to less than 15 % in Finland, Estonia, Denmark and Sweden.

Among households without children in the EU in 2021, around half of them comprised single adults (47.4 %), around one third were couples (32.4 %) and one fifth were households with two adults (who were not a couple) or more (20.2 %).

Figure 7: Households by type and presence of children, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhnhtych)


Among households with children, those with just 1 child are the most common. In 2021, in the EU, almost half of households with children had just 1 child (49.4 %). Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania had the highest shares of households with 1 child, more than 55 %. By contrast, the lowest shares were in Ireland and Sweden, where households with 1 child comprised less than 40 % of households with children (see Figure 8).

At EU level in 2021, 38.6 % of households with children included 2 children. Households with 2 children were most frequent in Sweden, the Netherlands and Slovenia, representing 47.0 %, 44.0 % and 42.4 %, respectively, of households with children in those countries.

In the EU, 12.0 % of the households with children in 2021 consisted of households with 3 or more children. Ireland, Finland, Croatia, Belgium, France, Sweden, Greece and the Netherlands recorded the highest shares of households with 3 children or more, all above 15 %. On the other end of the scale, in Malta, Lithuania, Czechia, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria, fewer than 1 in 10 households with children had 3 children or more.

Figure 8: Households by number of children, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfst_hhnhtych)

Source data for tables and graphs

Methods and definitions

Data sources

All statistics presented in this article are derived from the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). The EU-LFS is the largest European household sample survey providing quarterly and annual results on labour participation of people aged 15 and over. It covers residents in private households and excludes those in collective households. Conscripts in military or community service are not included in the results. The EU-LFS is based on the same target populations and uses the same definitions in all countries, which means that the results are comparable between the countries.

Under the specific topic 'Households statistics', the EU-LFS currently covers statistics on household composition and number and size of households.

Reference period: Yearly results are obtained as averages of the four quarters in the year.

Coverage: The results from the EU-LFS currently cover all European Union Member States, the EFTA Member States of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, as well as the candidate countries Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. For Cyprus, the survey covers only the areas of Cyprus controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus. Nevertheless, EU-LFS household data are not available for Iceland, Norway, Switzerland.

European aggregates: EU refers to the sum of EU Member States. If data are unavailable for a country, the calculation of the corresponding aggregates takes into account the data for the same country for the most recent period available. Such cases are indicated.

Definitions

A child is defined as a household member aged less than 18 years.

Country notes

In Germany, from the first quarter of 2020 onwards, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) is part of a new system of integrated household surveys. Technical issues and the COVID-19 crisis has had a large impact on data collection processes in 2020, resulting in low response rates and a biased sample. For more information, see here.

In the Netherlands, the 2021 LFS data remains collected using a rolling reference week instead of a fixed reference week, i.e. interviewed persons are asked about the situation of the week before the interview rather than a pre-selected week.

Spain and France have assessed the attachment to the job and included in employment those who, in their reference week, had an unknown duration of absence but expected to return to the same job once health measures allow it.

Time series

Regulation Regulation (EU) 2019/1700 came into force on 1 January 2021 and induced a break in the EU-LFS time series for several EU Member States.

Additional methodological information

More information on the EU-LFS can be found via the online publication EU Labour Force Survey, which includes eight articles on the technical and methodological aspects of the survey. The EU-LFS methodology in force from the 2021 data collection onwards is described in methodology from 2021 onwards. Detailed information on coding lists, explanatory notes and classifications used over time can be found under documentation.

Context

In addition to the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the EU-Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) is also a source of household statistics. The EU-SILC is a multi-purpose instrument which focuses mainly on income. However, information on housing conditions, social exclusion, labour and education is also collected.

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LFS series - specific topic(t_lfst)
Number of persons in households (tsdpc510)
LFS series -Specific topics (lfst)
Households statistics - LFS series (lfst_hh)
Population by household composition and number of children or age of youngest child (lfst_hh_p)
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Distribution of households by household size (source: SILC) (ilc_lvph03)
Distribution of households by household type and income level (source: SILC) (ilc_lvph04)
Distribution of households with children by number of children (source: EU-SILC) (ilc_lvph05)
Census - time series of selected indicators (cens_hn)
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Households by size (number of persons) (cens_hndwsize)