Introduction: Ireland has witnessed some very dramatic social changes in the last decades and we see these strongly at work in the area of family life. We have witnessed a decline in the rate of marriage, a huge growth in the number of people who are divorced or separated, a decline in the fertility rate to below replacement level, a massive increase in the number of births outside marriage, and a steep decline in religious marriage ceremonies. What we see is a society where marriage is less common, where they break up more often, where a child is far more likely to be born outside marriage and often to grow up without a father, and where far fewer children are born overall.
The following tables set out the social trends graphically.
Number of people who have undergone divorce or separation
Source: Court Service.
Number of single parent families
Number of cohabiting couples
Percentage of births outside marriage
Number of Marriages
From 2016, it refers to opposite sex marriages only.
Note: 2.1 children per couple is replacement level.
Catholic marriage ceremonies
Percentage of Catholic ceremonies in marriages.
Number of abortions
Source: Department of Health.
Ireland liberalised its abortion law in January 2019 following the repeal of the 8th amendment the previous year’.
(Note: In 2021 4,577 abortions were notified as having taken place, but HSE data show GPs submitted claims for reimbursement in respect of 6,700 second consultations for abortion care, under the primary care reimbursement scheme).