- The Iona Institute - https://ionainstitute.ie -

Social trends in Ireland

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 [2].


Number of single parent families



Source: CSO [4].


Number of cohabiting couples



Source: CSO [6].


Percentage of births outside marriage





Number of Marriages



Source: CSO [9].

From 2016, it refers to opposite sex marriages only.



Marriage rate



Source: CSO [9].


Fertility rate



Source: CSO [12].

Note: 2.1 children per couple is replacement level.


Total births



Source: CSO [12].


Catholic marriage ceremonies



Percentage of Catholic ceremonies in marriages.

Source: CSO [9].


Number of abortions



Source: Department of Health [16].

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 [17] for abortion care, under the primary care reimbursement scheme).