Statistics Explained

Marriage and divorce statistics


Data extracted in May 2022.

Planned article update: May 2023.

Highlights


In 2020, the lowest crude marriage rates within the EU were reported in Italy (1.6 marriages per 1 000 persons), Portugal (1.8) and Spain (1.9).

In 2020, the highest crude marriage rates within the EU were reported in Hungary (6.9 marriages per 1 000 persons), Latvia (5.6) and Lithuania (5.5).

In 2020, the highest crude divorce rates within the EU were reported in Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark (all 2.7 divorces per 1 000 persons).

In 2020, births outside marriage outnumbered births inside marriage in 8 EU Member States: France, Bulgaria, Portugal, Estonia, Slovenia, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

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 the mark of 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, such as registered partnership, have become more widespread and national legislation has changed to confer more rights on unmarried couples. Similarly, with divorce being made procedurally easier, it is harder to make reliable data available.

The number of marriages per 1 000 persons decreased within the EU in recent decades, while the number of divorces increased. However, these two trends seem to have slowed down in recent years. An increase in the proportion of children who are born to unmarried couples was also observed.


Full article

Fewer marriages, fewer divorces

Some 1.4 million marriages and an estimated 0.8 million divorces took place in the EU in 2020, according to the most recent data available for all EU Member States. These figures may be expressed as 3.2 marriages for every 1 000 persons (in other words the crude marriage rate) and 1.6 divorces for every 1 000 persons (in other words the crude divorce rate). The most recent data available for marriages for Cyprus is from 2019; and for divorces it is 2019 for Cyprus, 2017 for Ireland and Greece, and 2016 for France.

Since 1964 (the first year we have available data), the crude marriage rate in the EU has declined by more than 50 % in relative terms (from 8.0 per 1 000 persons in 1964 to 3.2 in 2020). The downward trend is interrupted by some intermediate peaks in 1989 (6.4), 2000 (5.2), 2007 (5.0) and 2018 (4.5). The decrease observed between 2019 (4.3 per 1 000 persons) and 2020 in the crude marriage rate could be interpreted as a first sign of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the EU population development. At the same time, the crude divorce rate has essentially doubled, increasing from 0.8 per 1 000 persons in 1964 to 1.6 in 2020. The divorce rate peaked in 2006 (2.1) and has been decreasing slightly since then. Part of this increase may be due to the fact that in several EU Member States divorce was legalised during this period (for example, in Italy, Spain, Ireland and Malta).

Figure 1: Crude marriage and divorce rates, 1964–2020
(per 1 000 persons)
Source: Eurostat (demo_nind) and (demo_ndivind)

Table 1 shows that in 2020, the highest crude marriage rates were in Hungary (6.9 marriages per 1000 persons) Latvia (5.6) and Lithuania (5.5). The lowest crude marriage rates were reported in Italy (1.6 marriages per 1 000 persons) and Portugal (1.8). In the candidate countries, the crude marriage rate was generally higher than the EU average. It ranged between 3.3 marriages per 1 000 persons in Montenegro and 6.2 in Albania. Among the EFTA countries, the crude marriage rate was highest for Iceland (5.0 marriages per 1000 persons) and lowest for Norway (3.3 marriages per 1 000 persons).

Table 1: Crude marriage rate, selected years, 1964–2020
(per 1 000 persons)
Source: Eurostat (demo_nind)

For divorce (see Table 2), in 2020 the lowest crude rates in the EU were registered in Malta (0.5 divorces per 1 000 persons) and Slovenia (0.8). By contrast, divorce rates were highest in Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark (all at 2.7 divorces per 1 000 persons), Sweden (2.5) and Finland (2.4). In 2020 the candidate countries had crude divorce rates ranging between 0.8 divorce per 1 000 persons in North Macedonia and 1.6 in Turkey. Among the EFTA countries, the crude divorce rate was 1.9 divorces per 1 000 persons in Iceland and Switzerland and 1.8 divorces per 1 000 persons in Norway.

Table 2: Crude divorce rate, selected years, 1960–2020
(per 1 000 persons)
Source: Eurostat (demo_ndivind)

A rise in births outside marriage

The proportion of live births outside marriage has shown an increasing trend in the past decades, almost doubling since 1993 (17.7 %) when this data was first available in the EU. In 2020 this proportion was estimated at 41.9 % (see Table 3) which means that 58.1 % of children were born inside marriage. The most recent data available for Belgium is 2018, for Cyprus 2019 and for Malta 2017. This share suggests 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.

Extramarital births outnumbered births inside marriage in several EU Member States, notably France (where 62.2 % of births occurred outside marriage), Bulgaria (59.6 %), Portugal (57.9 %), Estonia (56.8 %), Slovenia (56.5 %), Sweden (55.2 %), Denmark (54.2 %), the Netherlands (53.5 %) and Belgium (52.6 %, 2018 data), as well as in Iceland (71.3 %) and Norway (58.5 %) among the EFTA countries. Greece was at the other end of the spectrum where more than 86.2 % of births occurred within marriage. In Turkey this latter share was as high as 97.2 %.

Table 3: Live births outside marriage, selected years, 1960-2020
(share of total live births, %)
Source: Eurostat (demo_find)

Looking at the latest available data, extramarital births increased in 19 EU Member States in 2020 compared with 2019. However, in some countries the opposite trend can be seen: for example Hungary shows a decrease in the proportion of extramarital births in the latest years. Spain, showed a decrease of 11 p.p. between 2019 and 2020. The proportion of extramarital births increased in 2020 compared with 2019 in Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Eurostat compiles information on a wide range of demographic data, including data on the number of marriages by sex 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, 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 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.

The EU has been going through a period of demographic and societal change. More information of the work of the European Commission 2019-2024 to tackle the impact of demographic change in Europe can be found in the European Commission dedicated pages.

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Main tables

Crude marriage and divorce rate (tps00206)
Mean age at first marriage by sex (tps00014)

Methodology