Falling first marriage rates in Europe during the Great Recession. A comparison of 17 countries

Caroline Berghammer, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU) and Universität Wien
Tomas Sobotka, Vienna Institute of Demography

Marriage rates plummeted in many European countries since the beginning of the 1970s but this long-term fall had come to a halt in the early 2000s. Several countries in Western and Northern Europe that had progressed furthest in their family transformation actually experienced increasing marriage rates for the first time in more than three decades. However, the tentative revival of marriage in Europe proved short-lived as marriage rates started falling in all parts of Europe between 2007 and 2010, at the time when the economic recession began affecting the continent. This trend was not unexpected—economic downturns have repeatedly been associated with declines in marriages and births in the past as people facing uncertain circumstances refrained from making life-long commitments. In this study we provide a detailed analysis of first marriage trends in Europe since the year 2000. We therefore cover the period of marriage stabilisation and increase after 2000 as well as its subsequent downturn between 2008 and 2013. We reconstruct and analyse trends in first marriage rates by age among women in 17 countries. This analysis allows us addressing the following questions: (a) Was a trend of stabilising first marriage rates in 2000-2007 observed in most countries in Europe? (b) Did the period of the recent economic recession bring a reversal in marriage trends in all parts of Europe? (c) How was this recent reversal differentiated by age? Has the trend towards delayed marriage further accelerated after 2007? (d) Was there a close association between the severity of economic downturn in 2008-2013 and the decline in first marriage rate in that period?

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Presented in Session 102: Marriage and repartnering