Fewer marriages, babies later

Changes in family structure have led to an increase in informal living arrangements both in the existing EU member states and in the three future member countries (Estonia, Hungary and Poland) from which data was collected. But family structures have not changed to the same extent in all the countries surveyed. Since the 1970s, the marriage rate in all the countries surveyed has declined, to varying degrees. In 2000, Sweden and Estonia had the lowest rates of marriage. In Estonia, for example, the rate has fallen from 10 marriages per 1,000 residents in 1960 to four. The age at which people marry and have their first child has also changed. In Britain, women have their first child at the age of 29 (the European average), but in Estonia it is at 24, and in Ireland, Italy and Spain, at 30. Adolescent pregnancies Pregnancies among adolescents fell noticeably in the EU in the late 1990s, remaining at the same level only in Estonia (36 out of 1,000 women aged 15-19, compared with 31 in Hungary, 20 in Britain and five in Sweden). In the Scandinavian countries surveyed, cohabitation outside marriage is estimated at 20 percent, compared with 1-5 percent in the Mediterranean countries. The new EU states fall between these two extremes. Divorce rates have increased in all countries, with the highest rates in the Scandinavian countries, Britain and Estonia, where 40 percent of marriages in the late 1980s ended in divorce by 2000. The lowest rate of divorce was in the Mediterranean countries, Ireland and Poland. Bearing children out of wedlock and co-habiting without marriage are most common in Sweden and Estonia, where 50 percent of births are to single mothers, compared with single-digit figures in Greece, Italy and Poland. At the end of the 1990s, on average, 13 percent of children lived in single-parent households (6 percent in Greece and Spain, and 25 percent in Britain). The percentage of households comprising people who have been divorced in the past and have created new living arrangements is continually growing. In Sweden, for instance, 6 percent of children up to 7 years live in such families. The majority of children, however, grow up in families with two parents. «The development of alternative family structures does not mean that the family has ceased being the central value in life,» comment the researchers who wrote the report. There is a particularly high level of devotion to the family in Poland and Ireland, an above-average level in Italy, Britain, Sweden and Hungary, and a lower level in Germany, Greece, Spain and Estonia. Representatives of many of the countries expressed their concern about family insecurity among single-parent families, behavioral problems among children, and domestic violence against women, children and the aged. Domestic violence It is believed that the reporting of domestic violence against women will increase in the EU. In Greece, one in four men aged 25-35 has hit his wife at least once. In Britain, of 224 women who were killed, 47 percent were murdered by their husbands, and 43 percent of violent crimes against women are due to domestic violence. Asked whether intervention into family life can deal with family insecurity and domestic violence, most of the respondents believe that intervention is acceptable in order to deal with the consequences of a family breakup, and that state intervention to punish perpetrators of domestic violence is widely accepted. State intervention The researchers reported that Northern European countries offer protection and social welfare to families in crisis and criticized the Mediterranean countries surveyed for failing to implement such measures. The Greek researcher conducted face-to-face interviews with representatives of the ministries of Labor and Social Security and the National Economy, the General Secretariat for Equality, political parties, municipalities, employers’ and workers’ organizations, NGOs and voluntary organizations. There was no interview with the Health and Welfare Ministry because of a strike by ministry staff.