In France, the country that evokes more images of romance than perhaps any other, marriage has increasingly fallen out of favor.As noted, many couples are instead opting for civil partnerships or no formal arrangements at all, while still raising children and functioning as a household.
Growing numbers of couples are choosing to raise children, buy homes and build family lives without religious or civil approval of their partnerships. In the past generation, the French marriage rate has plunged more than 30 percent, even as population and birthrates have been rising.
"Marriage doesn't have the same importance as it used to," said France Prioux, who directs research on changing social trends for France's National Institute of Demographic Studies. "It will never become as frequent as it once was."
Marriage is in decline across much of northern Europe, from Scandinavia to France, a pattern some sociologists describe as a "soft revolution" in European society--a generational shift away from Old World traditions and institutions toward a greater emphasis on personal independence.
But French couples are abandoning the formality of marriage faster than most of their European neighbors and far more rapidly than their American counterparts: French marriage rates are 45 percent below U.S. figures.
The increase in out-of-wedlock birthrates is even more dramatic: Last year, 59 percent of all first-born French children were born to unwed parents, most by choice, not chance. The numbers were not driven by single mothers, teenage mothers or poor mothers but by couples from all social and economic backgrounds who chose parenthood in the absence of marriage vows.The question is, what ramifications for society does this trend hold?