In 2013, 2.1 million marriages and 943,000 divorces took place in the European Union. This is the equivalent of 4.1 marriages and 1.9 divorces for every 1,000 persons.
How does Ireland compare with the rest of Europe?
In the same year, the crude marriage rate (number of marriage per 1,000 persons per annum) for Ireland was 4.5. This was 6.4 in 1980 and it is expected to decline to 4.0 in 2030, according to a recent study.
Instead, the crude divorce rate (number of divorces in a year out of 1,000 people) was 0.6 in 2013. This does not include the number of Irish people who separate without divorcing. (More here: https://ionainstitute.ie/marriage-breakdown-in-ireland-higher-than-we-think/ )
When analyzing cohabitation, marriage, separation and divorce, Europe can be divided in three parts: North-West, Southern and Eastern. In North-West Europe cohabitation is more prevalent and marriage happens often after the birth of a child. While in Southern and Eastern Europe marriage remains more common, even if the number of children born out of wedlock is increasing. The age at marriage is higher in North-West Europe, compared to the rest, but the age of women’s first union, which includes cohabitation, is lower. Informal unions tend to be rather fragile and their breakdown is not recorded, as it happens with marriages and divorces.
Marriage rates have never been so low in Europe. It went from 7.8 per 1,000 in 1965 to 4.3 in 2015. This represent almost a 50% decline. The divorce rate went from 0.8 to 1.9 in the same period. We need to remember that divorce was introduced after 1965 in countries such as Ireland, Italy, Spain and Malta. These figures don’t show the percentage of marriages that break down but, rather, the proportion of divorced people in the general population.
The highest crude marriage rates in 2013 can be found in Cyprus (6.4) and Lithuania (6.9). The lowest in Slovenia and Bulgaria (3.0). The EU rate was 4.1 and Ireland’s rate was 4.5, somewhat above the average but far lower than a few decades ago.
In 2013 the lowest crude divorce rate could be found in Ireland (0.6), in Malta (0.8), where divorce was introduced only two years earlier, and in Italy (0.9), which also had a low marriage rate (3.2). Low divorce rates have always been more prevalent in Southern and Eastern Europe, while the highest could be found in Latvia (3.5), and Lithuania or Denmark (3.4).
In recent years some countries have provided more rights and sometimes even legal recognition to non-marital unions (civil partnership, same-sex “marriage”). This makes more difficult to compare countries with a variety of different legislations but also to match past figures with current ones. If we also take into account the growing rate of cohabitation, which is not officially recorded, one could say that statistics about marriage and divorce do not really present the complex reality of romantic unions and their dissolutions.