- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

PARIS (Agence France-Presse) — Marriage is on the wane all over Europe, as couples prefer “new conjugal practices” such as living together, according to a French study.

The survey of 20 European countries by France’s National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) found three main reasons for the trend:

• People tend to form stable, long-term relationships later in life.

• They are more inclined to move in together without getting married.

• They are less bothered about cementing their union in marriage after living together for long periods.

Moreover, the study shows that couples in Europe break up more readily than they used to.

Despite experiencing relationships and cohabitation before marriage, couples are apparently no better equipped to get along once they do tie the knot.

In general, the report says, a higher cohabitation rate is matched by a higher divorce rate.

“New conjugal practices appeared in the late 1960s in Scandinavia, notably in Sweden, and then gradually spread across Europe,” says the study’s author, France Prioux.

“But although the trends are going in the same direction everywhere,” she says, “there is still great variety in how couples live, and how long they stay together, from country to country.”

In the Mediterranean region, people are traditionally more inclined to continue living with their parents for longer, a trend that is on the rise.

Among women born in the mid-1960s, 60 percent had flown the family nest by age 25 in Spain, and two-thirds in Italy and Portugal, compared with 98 percent in Sweden.

Cohabitation remains the exception in Mediterranean countries, where in most cases, couples get married before living together.

The proportion of cohabitations that ultimately lead to marriage has fallen dramatically in Scandinavia, with less than 10 percent of Swedish couples exchanging vows after living together for two years.

However, the rate of cohabitations leading to marriage has risen in Spain and Italy, showing that “these countries remain attached to the institution of marriage,” the study’s author says.

The duration of relationships is on the decline all over Europe, but their average length still varies markedly from country to country, with the north-south divide again very much in evidence.

In 2003, more than half of Swedish, Belgian and Finnish marriages could be expected to end in divorce, compared with less than 20 percent in Greece and Italy.

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