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26th Jul 2021

Europeans marry older, less often

  • Europeans marry less nowadays, according to the Eurostat survey (Photo: EUobserver)

The number of marriages in the EU has been steadily decreasing over the years, while Europeans nowadays tend to wait more before saying "yes" if compared to 15 years ago, a European Commission study showed on Friday (21 November).

The age at the first marriage increased overall by 2.3 years for men and 2.6 years for women between 1990 and 2003, according to the Eurostat survey.

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While women used to marry at 24.8 years and men at 27.5 years in 1990, they did it at 27.4 years and 29.8 years in 2003.

The age of women giving birth for the first time has also been progressively increasing over the years and reached 31 years in 2006 in some countries such as Ireland, Italy and Spain.

In parallel, the overall number of marriages in the EU decreased by 30 percent between the years 1975 and 2005, going from 3.45 million to 2.4 million, the survey says.

According to Eurostat, this can be explained by various reasons.

"As more emphasis was placed on individual self-fulfilment [in the late 20th century], couples may have become less willing to accept the kind of compromise needed to support a marital partnership. Traditional marriage was no longer the only option," it says.

Additionally, more reliable birth control methods have been developing, and "the rise in female paid employment made women less dependent on a formal marital relationship for their livelihood."

Divorcing has also become easier over the years, due to changes in both social perceptions and law, and "alternative contractual living arrangements" have emerged.

Europeans getting older

The trend of fewer Europeans choosing to marry, and more and more choosing to do it older than before, has developed in the context of an ageing Europe in general.

According to the survey, "ageing is not something that will happen at some point in the distant future [anymore]; it is starting now."

From now on and for the next 25 years, the part of the population of 60 years and above will be increasing by 2 million people every year. Additionally, the working-age population should stop growing in some six-year time, after which it will start shrinking by one to 1.5 million per year.

This tendency increases the need to promote the employment of older workers, as well as to develop or improve policies in that respect, says Eurostat.

Notably working conditions should be improved and adapted to the needs and health status of older employees, and better access to training programmes should be assured.

Additionally, "the right framework for mobilising the potential" of older workers needs to be put in place to encourage voluntary work among the elderly, as some three quarters of Europeans have shown willingness to volunteer after they retire.

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