Marriage and divorce statistics
From Statistics Explained
- Data from October 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
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. Recent demographic data show that the number of marriages per 1 000 inhabitants has decreased within the EU-27 in recent years, while the number of divorces has increased – this has generally led to an increase in the number of children who are born to unmarried women.
Main statistical findings
Fewer marriages, more divorces
The number of marriages that took place in the EU-27 in 2010 was 2.2 million, while around 1.0 million divorces were recorded in 2009. The crude marriage rate, in other words the number of marriages per 1 000 inhabitants, stood at 4.4 in 2010, while the crude divorce rate was 1.9 in 2009.
The crude marriage rate in the EU-27 declined from 7.9 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants in 1970 to 4.4 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants by 2010, a reduction of 3.5 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants and an overall decline of 36 % in the absolute number of marriages. Over the same period, marriages in the EU-27 became less stable, as reflected by the increase in the crude divorce rate, which almost doubled from 1.0 divorce per 1 000 inhabitants in 1970 to 1.9 divorces by 2009. When considering the increase in the divorce rate it should be noted that national laws did not allow divorce in several countries until recently; thus, the increased number of divorces in the EU-27 may, at least in part, reflect the addition of divorces in those EU Member States where divorce was not previously possible (for example, Italy, Spain, Ireland or Malta).
Table 1 shows that in 2011 the crude marriage rate was highest, among EU Member States, in Cyprus (7.3 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants), Lithuania (6.3) and Malta (6.2); there were also high crude marriage rates in Turkey (8.0) and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (7.2 %). The lowest crude marriage rates were reported by Bulgaria (2.9 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants), Slovenia (3.2) and Luxembourg (3.3).
The lowest crude divorce rates (see Table 2) were recorded in Malta – where divorce has only been possible since 2011 – with 0.1 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants in 2011. Ireland (0.7 in 2011) and Italy (0.9 in 2010) were the only other EU Member States to record crude divorce rates below one divorce per 1 000 inhabitants, while Slovenia (1.1 in 2011) and Greece (1.2 in 2009) also recorded relatively low crude divorce rates. Among the EFTA, acceding and candidate countries, the crude divorce rate was relatively low in Montenegro (0.8 in 2010) and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (0.9 in 2011). The highest crude divorce rates were recorded in Latvia (4.0 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants in 2011) and Lithuania (3.4), ahead of and Belgium (2.9).
A rise in births outside marriage
The proportion of live births outside marriage increased across the EU-27 over the last two decades, reflecting a change in the pattern of traditional family formation, away from the model of parenthood following marriage; children born outside of marriage may be born to a couple in a non-marital relationship (for example, cohabiting couples) or to a single mother.
In the EU-27 some 38.3 % of children were born outside marriage in 2010, while the corresponding figure for 1990 was 17.4 % (see Table 3). The share of extra-marital births has been on the rise in recent years in almost every EU Member State. Indeed, extra-marital births accounted for the majority of live births in Estonia (59.7 % in 2011), Slovenia (56.8 %), Bulgaria (56.1 %) and Sweden (54.3 %), as well as in France in 2010 (55.0 %). An even higher proportion of live births outside of marriage was registered in Iceland (65.0 % in 2011).
The number of live births outside of marriage, among EU Member States, was lowest in Greece (7.4 % in 2011) and Cyprus (16.9 % in 2011), while more than one in every five births in Poland was outside of marriage; Poland was the EU Member State with the third lowest proportion of live births outside of marriage. By contrast, a considerably lower proportion of live births took place outside of marriage in Turkey (just 2.6% in 2010).
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.
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 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.
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.
Further Eurostat information
- EU Employment and Social Situation - Quarterly Review - March 2013 - Special Supplement on Demographic Trends
- Merging populations - Issue number 29/2012
- Population grows in twenty EU Member States - Issue number 38/2011
- The greying of baby boomers - Statistics in focus 23/2011
- Highly educated men and women likely to live longer - Issue number 24/2010
- Demographic outlook
- Population (t_popula), see:
- Demography (t_pop)
- Marriage and divorce (t_demo_nup)
- Marriages (tps00012)
- Divorces (tps00013)
- Marriage and divorce (t_demo_nup)
- Population (populat), see:
- Demography (pop)
- Demography - National data
- Population (demo_pop)
- Fertility (demo_fer)
- Mortality (demo_mor)
- Marriage and divorce (demo_nup
- Marriage indicators (demo_nind)
- Marriages by previous marital status and sex (demo_nmsta)
- First-time marrying persons by age and sex (demo_nsinagec)
- Divorce indicators (demo_ndivind)
- Demography - National data
Methodology / Metadata
- Fertility (ESMS metadata file - demo_fer_esms)
- Marriage and divorce (ESMS metadata file - demo_nup_esms)
- Mortality (ESMS metadata file - demo_mor_esms)
- Population (ESMS metadata file - demo_pop_esms)