Marriage and divorce statistics
Data extracted in May 2021.
Planned article update: May 2022.
In 2019, the lowest crude marriage rates within the EU were reported in Italy (3.1 marriages per 1 000 persons), Slovenia and Portugal (3.2).
In 2019, the highest crude marriage rates within the EU were reported in Cyprus (8.9 marriages per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (7.0), Latvia and Hungary (6.7).
In 2019, the highest crude divorce rates within the EU were reported in Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg (all 3.1 divorces per 1 000 persons).
In 2019, births outside marriage outnumbered births inside marriage in 9 EU Member States: France, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Belgium 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 recognized 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 legislations have changed to confer more rights on unmarried couples. Similarly, with divorce being made procedurally easier, it is harder to make available reliable data.
The number of marriages per 1 000 persons decreased within the EU-27 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, together with a decrease of children born inside marriage.
Fewer marriages, more divorces
Some 1.9 million marriages and an estimated 0.8 million divorces took place in the EU in 2019, according to the most recent data available for all EU Member States. These figures may be expressed as 4.3 marriages for every 1 000 persons (in other words the crude marriage rate) and 1.8 divorces for every 1 000 persons (in other words the crude divorce rate). The most recent data available for marriages is from 2018 for France; and for divorces it is 2017 for Ireland and Greece, and 2016 for France.
Since 1964 (the first year from when we have available data), the crude marriage rate in the EU has declined by close to 50 % in relative terms (from 8.0 per 1 000 persons in 1964 to 4.3 in 2019). At the same time, the crude divorce rate has more than doubled, increasing from 0.8 per 1 000 persons in 1964 to 1.8 in 2019. 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).
Table 1 shows that in 2019, the highest crude marriage rates were in Cyprus (8.9 marriages per 1 000 persons) and Lithuania (7.0). The lowest crude marriage rates were reported in Italy (3.1 marriages per 1 000 persons), Slovenia and Portugal (both 3.2). In the candidate countries, the crude marriage rate was generally higher than the EU average. It ranged between 5.1 marriages per 1 000 persons in Serbia and 7.9 in Albania. Among the EFTA countries, the crude marriage rate was available for Norway (4.0 marriages per 1 000 persons) and Switzerland (4.5).
As regards divorce (see Table 2), in 2019 the lowest crude rates in the EU were registered in Malta (0.7 divorces per 1 000 persons), Ireland (0.7, 2017 data) and Slovenia (1.2), Italy (1.4) and Croatia (1.5). By contrast, divorce rates were highest in Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg (all 3.1 divorces per 1 000 persons), Cyprus (2.6) and Sweden (2.5). In 2019 the candidate countries had crude divorce rates ranging between 1.0 divorce per 1 000 persons in North Macedonia and 2.1 in Albania. Among the EFTA countries, the crude divorce rate was 1.9 divorces per 1 000 persons in Norway and 2.0 divorces per 1 000 persons in Switzerland.
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 when this data was first available in the EU at 17.7 %. In 2019 this proportion was estimated at 42.7 % (see Table 3) which means that 57.3 % of children were born in marriage. The most recent data available for Belgium is 2018 and for Malta 2013. This share is signaling 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 61 % of births occurred outside marriage), Bulgaria (58.4 %), Slovenia (57.7 %), Portugal (56.8 %), Sweden (54.5 %), Denmark (54.1 %), Estonia (53.7 %), Belgium (52.6 %, 2018 data) and the Netherlands (52.4 %), as well as in Iceland (69.4 %) and Norway (57.6 %) among the EFTA countries. Greece was at the other end of the spectrum where more than 87 % of births occurred within marriage. In Turkey this share was as high as 97.2 %.
Looking at the latest available data, extramarital births increased in 14 EU Member States in 2019 compared with 2018. However, in some countries we notice the opposite trend: for example Hungary, Latvia and Poland show a decrease in the proportion of extramarital births in the latest years. The same is true for Iceland, Turkey and Kosovo, while the proportion of extramarital births increased in 2019 compared with 2018 in Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, North Macedonia and Serbia.
Source data for tables and graphs
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.
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.
The EU has been going through a period of demographic and societal change. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting impact on the way we live and work together. The outbreak came at a time when Europe had already been going through a period of profound 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.
- Crude marriage and divorce rate (tps00206)
- Marriages and divorces (ESMS metadata file — demo_nup_esms)