Strange as it may sound, but:  The future of the family lies in northern Europe! Unexpected? Maybe, but it is very well supported by the data we have.

Usually, it needs a couple to get children. In those areas, where people are living in couples the chance of having children is higher than in those where young people are living single. In consequence, we have to look at those parts of Europe where people live in couples.

Couples – married and cohabiting

When looking at the living forms of the young adults between 20 and 35 in the European countries the first what strikes me is: there is less difference across the countries in the number of people married in this age group as one would expect given the traditional South and the individualized North in Europe. It varies from about a quarter to a third, that is 8% points. Not so much.

But the difference in cohabiting, living together without being married, is impressive. While in the Northern countries it is about a fifth of the 20 to 34 years old in 2008, in Southern countries 5% or less are living unmarried together, a difference of about 20% points.

To live in a couple raises the chance of getting children.  If we put marriage and cohabitation together we will find that about half of the age group from 20 to 35 – with the tendency to be more than a half – is living with a partner in the northern countries of Europe, while this is true in the southern countries only for a third.

Many more young adults in the Northern countries are living in partnerships and thus are more likely to have children than in the South. That is reflected in the fertility rate.  It is much higher in the north (Sweden: 1,9, Iceland: 2,0) than in the south of Europe (Portugal 1.3, Italy 1.4). The rate is particularly high among Nordic countries, like Norway and Sweden having more first births outside of marriage than within.

Countries with a low cohabitation rate have also a low fertility rate.

In contrast, we have people staying single: up to two-thirds of the young adults in the south are singles and nearly all of them stay at home with their family, while in the north it is less than half and most of them living in their own single households.

Give coupling a chance

If we put aside value issues that only accept marriage as the start for a family and look at the actual and in parts of Europe broadly accepted behavior of cohabitation we can say the future of the family, meaning a couple living with children, lies in the North of Europe.

And more: up to two-thirds of the young adults in the south are singles and nearly all of them stay at home with their family, this is the group most unlikely to get children.

In consequence, if you want to have a higher fertility rate give people the chance to live in a couple in a household, independent of marriage.

Sources:  you find detailed data in the OECD – Family Database website.

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