NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 27, 2006

In France, growing numbers of couples are choosing to raise children, buy homes and build family lives without religious or civil approval of their partnerships, says the Washington Post.

While marriage is in decline across much of northern Europe, French couples are abandoning the formality of marriage faster than most of their European neighbors and far more rapidly than their American counterparts:

  • In the past generation, the French marriage rate has plunged more than 30 percent, even as population and birthrates have been rising; currently French marriage rates are 45 percent below U.S. figures.
  • In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, the marriage rate in France was 4.3 per 1,000 people, compared with 5.1 in the United Kingdom and 7.8 in the United States.
  • The only European countries with rates lower than France's were Belgium (4.1) and Slovenia (3.3).

The increase in out-of-wedlock birthrates in France is even more dramatic, says the Post:

  • Last year, 59 percent of all first-born French children were born to unwed parents, most by choice, not chance.
  • The numbers were not driven by single mothers, teenage mothers or poor mothers, but by couples from all social and economic backgrounds that chose parenthood without marriage vows.

The trend is driven by a convergence of social transitions in both the demographic and cultural landscapes, including this generation's nearly universal estrangement from religion, especially the Catholic Church, says the Post.  The result is massive migration to urban areas, where young adults are more independent from their families; and a society that has become not only tolerant but supportive of personal choice in lifestyles.

Source: Molly Moore, "Marriage rate takes a plunge in France," Washington Post/Dallas Morning News, November 27, 2006.


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