Marriage rates across much of Europe fall to record lows
Marriage rates have fallen dramatically in major European countries over the past decade as austerity, generational crisis and apathy towards the institution deter young people from tying the knot.
The number of weddings has fallen to record lows in France and Spain and has tumbled in other Catholic countries such as Italy, Ireland, Poland and Portugal, according to national and European data. But people have also fallen out of love with marriage in countries as varied as Greece, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands and Britain. Only in parts of Scandinavia, the Baltic republics and Germany is the institution retaining its allure.
In Italy there were fewer than 200,000 marriages last year, the lowest number since the first world war. Numbers have fallen by 24 per cent in the past decade and halved since 1965. Preliminary data indicated that the rate of marriages in Italy last year was 3.3 per 1,000 citizens, said Istat (Italy's National Institute of Statistics), compared with 4.6 in 2003. It was, it said, "the lowest in modern history". "There are cultural and economic causes for this phenomenon," said the institute's chairman, Antonio Golini. "The cultural causes are that marriage has become less important from a religious and civil point of view, because many young people live together without marrying.
"But there are also economic causes because marriage means having a celebration and often this celebration is big and costs a lot."
Economic crisis not only means people wanting to save money on a party. A study this year found that almost half of people aged 18-30 in Europe still live with their parents, prevented from moving out by a lack of jobs, large debts and rising property costs. Experts say these factors are also hitting birth rates.
"The lack of stable jobs and absence of credit have become disincentives to forming a family," said Teresa Castro-Martin, professor of research in the department of population studies at the CSIC, a government research institute in Spain.
The average age of newlyweds in Spain is now 37.2 years for men, almost 10 years higher than it was in the 1980s
In France the downward trend in marriages has been affected by the rise of civil partnership contracts. Last year, for every three marriages there were two civil partnerships, which were introduced in 1999.
Magali Mazuy, of the French National Institute of Demographic Studies, said the dip in marriages could be attributed in part to the popularity of the partnership, but also noted that only a fraction of people in the partnerships subsequently married.
Declining marriage rates in Greece have been exacerbated by the country's debt crisis, but have been a fact of life for the past decade, sociologists say.
Changing lifestyles and behavioural patterns as much as economic pressures have been behind the fall. More than 6o per cent of Greek youth are unemployed, the highest in the EU.
The realisation that they would not be able to provide, combined with a reluctance to give up what Aliki Mouriki, at the National Centre for Social Research described as "their bohemian, uncommitted way of life", has meant that many young Greeks are postponing marriage.
Ville-la-Grande mayor performs his first, and last, gay marriage
For French mayor Raymond Bardet, a vehement opponent of same-sex marriage, the question pitted parental love against principle.
However, when asked to officiate at the union of his son and another man a week ago, Bardet did not hesitate.
"It seemed perfectly normal for me to carry out the marriage even though I still don't agree with gay marriage," Bardet, 72, told his Le Dauphine Libere newspaper.
"When my son asked me if I'd do it, I immediately told him 'yes', because I did the same for his sister and because we get on well.
"I didn't want to give the wrong impression of relations with my family."
Bardet, mayor since 1981 of the village of Ville-la-Grande, said he had never discussed same-sex marriage with his son.
The issue divided France and led to massive protests before it was legalised last year.
In January last year, Bardet even organised a mock gay marriage between two of his male staff, the town hall's directors of technical services and communications.
However, should anyone get the wrong idea, Bardet has said his son's union would be the first and last same-sex marriage he will conduct.
"It's normal I made an exception, but it won't happen again … I have certain opinions and I hold them firmly. At 72 years I'm not going to change," he said.