Marriage and divorce statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from May 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: May 2015.
Figure 1: Crude marriage and divorce rates, EU-28, 1970–2010
(per 1 000 inhabitants) - Source: Eurostat (demo_nind) and (demo_ndivind)
Table 1: Crude marriage rate, selected years, 1960–2012
(per 1 000 inhabitants) - Source: Eurostat (demo_nind)
Table 2: Crude divorce rate, selected years, 1960–2012 (1)
(per 1 000 inhabitants) - Source: Eurostat (demo_ndivind)
Table 3: Live births outside marriage, selected years, 1960–2012
(share of total live births, %) - Source: Eurostat (demo_find)

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-28 in recent decades, 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

In 2012, based on the available data, there were around 2 million marriages concluded in the EU-28, while there were about 1 million divorces recorded. The crude marriage rate, in other words the number of marriages per 1 000 inhabitants, stood at 4.8 in 2008 (the latest year for which data for the EU as a whole are available), while the crude divorce rate was 2.0 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants in 2010.

The crude marriage rate in the EU-28 declined from 7.9 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants in 1970 to 4.8 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants by 2008. Thus, a reduction of 3.1 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants occurred over nearly four decades, resulting from an overall decline of 39 % in the number of marriages. Marriages in the EU-28 became less stable, as reflected by the increase in the crude divorce rate, which doubled from 1.0 divorces per year per 1 000 inhabitants in 1970 to 2.0 divorces by 2010. When considering the increase in the divorce rate it should be noted that national laws did not allow divorce in some countries until recently; thus, the increased number of divorces over the last decades may, at least in part, reflect the addition of divorces in those EU Member States where divorce was not previously possible (for example, in Italy, Spain, Ireland or Malta).

Table 1 shows that in 2012 the crude marriage rate was highest, among EU Member States, in Lithuania (6.9 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants), Malta and Cyprus (both 6.7); there were also high crude marriage rates in Turkey (8.0) and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (6.8). The lowest crude marriage rates were reported for Bulgaria (2.9 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants), Portugal (3.3), Slovenia and Luxembourg (both 3.4).

Among the EU Member States, the highest crude divorce rates in 2012 were recorded in Latvia (3.6 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants) and Lithuania (3.5), ahead of Denmark (2.8) — see Table 2. The lowest crude divorce rate in 2012 was recorded in Ireland (0.6 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants). Italy (0.9 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants, 2011 data), Malta (1.1), Greece (1.2, 2010 data), Slovenia (1.2) and Croatia (1.3) also recorded relatively low crude divorce rates. In Malta, divorce has only been possible since 2011, and the divorce rate increased from 0.1 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants in 2011 to 1.1 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants in 2012. Among the EFTA and candidate countries, the crude divorce rate was relatively low in Montenegro (0.8 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants), the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (0.9) and Serbia (1.0).

A rise in births outside marriage

The proportion of live births outside marriage increased across the EU-28 over recent decades, reflecting a change in the pattern of traditional family formation. A move away from the model of parenthood following marriage has led to children born outside of marriage — to couples in non-marital relationships or to single mothers — outnumbering those born inside marriages in several EU Member States.

In the EU-28 as a whole some 39.3 % of children were born outside marriage in 2011, while the corresponding figure for 2000 was 27.3 % (see Table 3). The share of extra-marital births has been on the rise in recent years in almost every EU Member State. Indeed, in 2012 extra-marital births accounted for the majority of live births in Estonia (58.4 %), Slovenia (57.6 %), Bulgaria (57.4 %), Sweden (54.5 %), Belgium (52.3 %) and Denmark (50.6 %), as well as in France in 2011 (55.8 %). An even higher proportion of live births outside of marriage was registered in Iceland (66.9 %).

In 2012, the number of live births outside of marriage, among EU Member States, was lowest in Greece (7.6 %), Croatia (15.4 %) and Cyprus (18.6 %). A considerably lower proportion of live births took place outside of marriage in Turkey (2.6%).

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.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Demography (t_pop)
Demography - National data (t_demo)
Marriage and divorce (t_demo_nup)
Marriages (tps00012)
Divorces (tps00013)


Demography (pop)
Demography - National data
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)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)