Marriage and birth statistics - new ways of living together in the EU
- Authors: Louise Corselli-Nordblad and Andrea Gereoffy, Eurostat
- Data extracted in June 2015.
This article on marriage and birth statistics is part of a pilot project implemented by Eurostat together with the Member States. The aim of the pilot project is to better reply to user's needs by complementing Eurostat articles in Statistics Explained containing information on the EU with more detailed information on a national level. Articles from the participating Member States are available in the corresponding national languages as well as in English and they form, together with the Eurostat article, an online publication.
The way people live together in the EU has significantly changed in the last decades. Marriage had long been considered as virtually the only way to form a family. This has changed and alternatives to marriage, like consensual unions and registered partnerships, have become more widespread. At the same time, births outside marriage have become more and more frequent.
Main statistical findings
Marriages and divorces
Nearly one divorce for two marriages in the EU-28
In 2011, 2.1 million couples married in the EU-28, corresponding to a crude marriage rate of 4.2 marriages per 1 000 persons, a decrease compared with 5.2 in 2000. On the other hand, there were almost 1 million divorces in 2011, corresponding to a crude divorce rate of 2.0 divorces per 1 000 persons, an increase compared with 1.8 in 2000. While there was nearly one divorce for every three marriages in 2000, there was one divorce for two marriages in 2011.
In 2013, the highest crude marriage rates among the EU Member States were recorded in Lithuania (6.9 marriages per 1 000 persons), Cyprus (6.4) and Malta (6.1), and the lowest in Bulgaria and Slovenia (both 3.0 marriages per 1 000 persons), Portugal (3.1), Italy and Luxembourg (both 3.2).
Since divorces became legal in Malta in 2011, it is now legal to seek a divorce in all Member States. In 2013, Latvia (3.5 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants), had the highest crude divorce rate, followed by Denmark and Lithuania (both 3.4) and Sweden (2.8), while Ireland (0.6 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants in 2012), Malta (0.8) and Italy (0.9 in 2012) registered the lowest rates.
More than half of the population aged 20 and over in the EU-28 is married
Statistics on marital status consider only the legal aspect. There are several types of marital status: married, widowed, divorced, registered partnerships as well as singles, meaning those who have never been married or in a registered partnership. For the population aged 20 and over in the EU, the population census carried out in all EU Member States in 2011 shows that being married is still the most common form of marital status, with more than half (55.3 %) of those aged over 20 in the EU-28 being married in 2011. The remaining population of this age consisted of 28.1% single - people never married or in a registered partnership, 8.9 % widowed and 7.4% divorced, 0.3 % registered partnerships, other or not stated.
The proportion of the population aged 20 and over being married in 2011 varied between Member States, with the highest shares in Cyprus and Malta (both 64.6 %), Greece (62.4 %), Romania (61.1 %) and Poland (60.8 %). The lowest shares were observed in Estonia (41.5 %), Sweden (43.9 %), Latvia (46.9 %), Hungary (47.7 %), Finland (48.3 %) and Slovenia (49.4 %), where less than half of the population aged 20 and over is married.
Marriages are more common among the elderly: 16.5 % of those aged 20 to 29 in the EU were married, compared with 60.6 % of those aged 30 to 49 and 64.5 % of those aged 50 and over.
When comparing the proportion of divorced people, the highest shares were recorded in Latvia (15.0 %), Estonia (14.5 %) and the Czech Republic (12.8 %), and the lowest in Malta (0.6 %), Ireland (2.6 %) and Italy (2.8 %).
Among young people aged 20 to 29, 15 % live in a consensual union in the EU-28
In order to further analyse the new ways of living together and to complement the legal aspect, statistics on consensual unions, which take into account the situation when two persons belong to the same household, and have a ‘marriage-like’ relationship with each other, and are not married to or in a registered partnership with each other, can also be analysed. According to the last population census, 8.8 % of the EU-28 population aged 20 and over lived in a consensual union in 2011. The shares varied considerably between Member States with the highest proportions observed in Sweden (18.3 %), Estonia (16.4 %), France (14.3 %), Denmark and Finland (both 14.0 %), and the lowest in Greece (1.7 %), Poland (2.1 %), Malta (2.5 %) and Croatia (2.9 %).
Consensual unions are more common among young people: 15.0 % of those aged 20 to 29 in the EU lived in a consensual union, compared with 12.6 % of those aged 30 to 49 and 3.8 % of those aged 50 and over.
Mean age at first marriage
Mean age at first marriage over 30 for men in most Member States
In all Member States for which data is available, the age at first marriage for both men and women has increased by approximately 1 to 4 years between 2000 and 2013. There is a large proportion of the population who get married after the age of 30.
In 2013, the mean age at first marriage for men was at least 30 years in all EU Member States, except Poland (29.0 years), Lithuania (29.5 years) and Romania (29.7 years). The highest mean age for men at first marriage was recorded in Sweden (35.7 years), followed by Denmark, Spain and Italy (each around 34 years).
The lowest age for women at first marriage was observed in Romania (26.3 years), Poland (26.6 years) and Bulgaria (26.7 years), while the highest age was recorded in Ireland (34.3 years in 2011), Sweden (33.0 years) and Spain (32.2 years).
The mean age at first marriage for women was lower than for men in all Member States except Ireland, where men were almost a year younger than women. In the other Member States, men were around two to three years older than women at first marriage.
Fertility rates still below the replacement level in the EU-28
In parallel with the change in the way people live together, changes have also been observed regarding births.
A fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant if net migration is zero. The fertility rate in the EU-28 has been lower than this replacement level in recent decades. It stood at 1.46 live births per woman in the EU-28 in 2001. During the last decade a slight recovery was observed in most EU Member States, such that by 2013 the EU-28’s total fertility rate was 1.55.
The highest fertility rates were recorded in France (1.99 live births per woman), Ireland (1.96), Sweden (1.89) and the United Kingdom (1.83), and the lowest in Portugal (1.21), Spain (1.27) and Poland (1.29).
Mean age of women at birth of first child in the EU-28 is nearly 29 years
The mean age of women at the birth of their first child was 28.7 years in the EU-28 in 2013. As for the age of marriage, the age of women at birth of first child also varied among Member States. Women were 30 years or over at the birth of their first child in Italy (30.6 years), Spain (30.4 years) and Luxembourg (30.0), while they were around 26 years in Bulgaria (25.7 years), Romania (25.8 years) and Latvia (26.1 years).
Comparing 2013 with 2000 among the Member States for which data are available for both years, increases in the mean age of the mother at birth of first child of around 3 years are observed in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovakia, while there was a decrease of almost one year in the United Kingdom.
Four out of ten births are outside marriage in the EU-28
The proportion of live births outside marriage in the EU-28 has increased significantly in the last decade, signalling new patterns of family formation alongside the more traditional pattern where children were born within marriage. In 2012, 40.0 % of live births in the EU-28 were outside marriage, which is 12.7 percentage points higher than the share of 27.3 % in 2000.
In some Member States, over half of live births are taking place outside marriage. This was the case in Bulgaria (59.1 % of live births outside marriage), Estonia (58.4 %), Slovenia (58.0 %), France (56.7 %), Sweden (54.4 %), Belgium (52.3 %) and Denmark (51.5 %) in 2013. On the other hand, only 7 % of live births in Greece were outside marriage, followed by 16.1 % in Croatia, 18.6 % in Cyprus and 23.4 % in Poland.
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 as well as 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.
Fertility statistics are also collected in relation to the number of births by the rank of the child (first, second, third child and so on). A series of fertility indicators are produced from the information collected, including the total fertility rate and fertility rates according to the mother’s age, the mean age of women at childbirth, the crude birth rate etc.
Most EU countries conduct a population census every 10 years. Compared to surveys and annual demographic data, the census results are very precise and can give information about the population at the national, regional and municipal levels. The census results of all EU and EFTA countries are accessible via the Eurostat Census Hub.
The EU’s social policy does not include a specific strand for family issues. Policymaking in this area remains the exclusive responsibility of EU Member States, reflecting different family structures, historical developments, social attitudes and traditions from one Member State to another. Nevertheless, policymakers may well evaluate fertility statistics as a background for family policymaking. Furthermore, a number of common demographic themes are apparent across the whole of the EU, such as a reduction in the average number of children being born per woman and the increasing mean age of mothers at childbirth.
The family 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 developed to confer more rights to 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.
Further Eurostat information
- Employment and Social Situation — Quarterly Review — March 2013 - Special Supplement on Demographic Trends
- Marriage and divorce), see:
- Crude marriage rate (tps00012)
- Crude divorces rate (tps00013)
- Fertility (t_demo_fer)
- Total fertility rate (tsdde220)
- Mean age of women at childbirth (tps00017)
- Live births outside marriage (tps00018)
- Census data, see:
- Census 2011 round (cens_11r)
- Fertility (demo_fer)
- Live births by mother's age at last birthday and by birth order (demo_fordagec)
- Live births by mother's age reached during the year and by birth order (demo_fordager)
- Live births by month (demo_fmonth)
- Fertility indicators (demo_find)
- Fertility rates by age (demo_frate)
Methodology / Metadata
- Marriage and divorce (ESMS metadata file — demo_nup_esms)
- Fertility (ESMS metadata file — demo_fer_esms)
- Population (ESMS metadata file — demo_pop_esms)
Similar articles and information on marriages and births
- Marriages (German version)
- Divorces (German version)
- Births (German version)
- Families and Households, 2015
- Births by Parents' Characteristics in England and Wales, 2014
- How have marriages of same sex couples affected the number of civil partnership formations, and how many couples have converted their civil partnership into a marriage?
- What percentage of marriages end in divorce?
- How popular is your birthday?
- No 2013 data available for the EU aggregate
- Data on same-sex partnerships is not gathered by all EU Member States. For more information on data availability, see: Demographic statistics: A review of definitions and methods of collection in 44 European countries)
- The result of the census data collection on consensual unions depends on assumptions and national methods (registers vs. traditional data collection
- Data refer to 2012 for Estonia, France, Belgium and Cyprus