NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

In Europe, Little Stigma Attached To Children Born Out Of Wedlock

March 27, 2002

It appears that in Europe few lift an accusing eye at parents who bear children without getting married. This is especially true in northern Europe and not at all uncommon the further south one goes.

  • It has been estimated that perhaps half the children born in Norway have parents who are single or living together.
  • The figure was 62 percent in Iceland in 1999 and 38 percent in Britain.
  • In France, it was 41 percent in 1998.
  • Even in deeply Catholic Ireland, about 31 percent of the births in 1999 took place outside marriage -- about the same as figures in the U.S.

While the U.S. government is actively promoting marriage, many Europeans seem to consider the relationship between men and women a very personal decision -- and not the reason to seek sanction of either church or state. The British government recently agreed -- acknowledging that there are many alternatives to the classic family structure, though in deeply religious countries such as Italy, few children are born to unwed parents -- just 9 percent in 1998.

Single parents in Europe are generally better off economically than in the U.S. because welfare policies are specifically intended to ensure all children are given the same financial benefits and legal treatment whether their parents are married, cohabitating, separated, divorced or single.

Said one observer, "They've taken the marital status out of it and focused on the children."

Source: Sarah Lyall, "For Europeans, Love, Yes; Marriage, Maybe," New York Times, March 24, 2002.


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