Report charts collapse of family life in Europe

There is a marital breakdown and an abortion in Europe almost every 30 seconds, according to a shock new report which charts the collapse of family life today.

Marriage and birth rates are falling dramatically, pensioners now outnumber teenagers, and more and more people are living alone, says the Institute for Family Policy in a survey of life in the 27 European Union countries.

The average marriage lasts about 13 years and the number of abortions in the EU every year is put at 1.2 million – equivalent to the population of Slovenia.

That makes abortion the largest single cause of death in Europe according to the report on “The Evolution of the Family in Europe 2008”.

It warns: “Europe is undergoing a demographic winter, and now, Europe is an elderly continent.”

The report, unveiled in the European Parliament in Brussels, describes the European birth rate as “critical”.

It says almost one million – 920,089 – fewer babies were born in the 27 EU countries last year than in 1980.

And figures show there were six million more over-65s then under-14s in Europe last year, compared with 36 million more children than pensioners in 1980.

The fact that the number of EU inhabitants has increased at all is largely due to immigration, the report continues, with 84% of population growth between 2000-2007 attributable to arrivals from beyond EU borders.

There is one marital breakdown every 30 seconds and one abortion every 27 seconds in Europe today – one million divorces and almost 1.2 million abortions annually.

Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain have the highest rate of marital breakdown: on average two out of three marriages end in divorce in each country. And Germany, the UK, France and Spain between them account for nearly 60% of all EU divorces.

Almost one in every five pregnancies (18.5%) ends in abortion. Of the 6,390,014 pregnancies in 2006 in the 27 EU countries, 1,167,683 ended in abortion. That, says the report, makes the annual abortion rate equivalent to the entire population of an EU nation such as Slovenia or Cyprus, or the populations of Luxembourg and Malta put together.

France (206,311), the UK (194,353), Romania (150,246), Italy (129,272), Germany (119,710) and Spain (101,592) have the highest abortion rates, jointly accounting for 77% of all abortions in Europe.

But the abortion rate is rising fastest in Spain – a 99% increase between 1996 and 2006.

At the same time the fall in marriages is described as “dramatic”, with a marriage rate reduction of 24% between 1980 and 2006. Two out of three European households now have no children, the report reveals.

Those couples that do have children – in or out of wedlock – are starting families later, women at an average age of about 29 and men at over 31. That is an average delay in starting a family of more than five years compared with 25 years ago.

European households are becoming more solitary too. More than 54 million Europeans live alone, with nearly 28% of European households having only one person. The average EU household now has only 2.4 occupants.

The answer to family decline says the report, is more family-based policies at national government and EU level: “Although there is growing awareness of the problems faced by families in the EU, there is no organisation which is in charge of Family Policy, nor does it have a Family Observatory or a Green Paper on the Family.”

The report urges national governments to set up a Ministry for the Family, with budgets to develop measures to promote and protect family life.

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