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There are many rather interesting patterns here:
- The Nordics, France, The Former GDR, Estonia, Bulgaria all have high rates out of wedlock births. Most but not all of them are socially liberal; all of them, however, are highly secular and irreligious.
- There does not seem to be a high correlation between out of wedlock births and total fertility rates. “Traditionalist” Italy, West Germany, and Spain all have low TFRs; conservative and strongly religious Poland has one of the very lowest TFRs in all of Europe.
- On the other hand, ultraconservative and very religious Far West Ukraine has consistently had some of the very highest TFRs in Europe, along with moderately conservative Ireland and very liberal France, Scandinavia, and Iceland.
That study is basically a statistical survey of the history of nonmarital fertility (NMF) in Europe in the past three centuries.
Here is a map of nonmarital fertility rates in 1910, just before modern nationstates began to break down traditional marriage folkways through laws and regulations:
As we can see, there are significant but not overwhelming continuities between 1910 and 2007. Klüsener found a Spearman’s rho correlation of 0.29 between regional out of wedlock shares of births.
What determines NMF?
Klüsener lays out several factors:
- Economic instability – Favors NMF.
- Preexisting traditions – Some regions like Iceland and parts of Sweden have always had less of an absolute emphasis on marriage.
- Laws/Customs – Historically, Jews in Austrian Galicia had children almost entirely within wedlock, but they were not officially registered; hence the unexpectedly rather high share of out of wedlock births across the eastern Habsburg domains in the 1910 map are more a statistical artefact than a reality. Today, similar factors apply to Kosovan Muslims.
- Agricultural inheritance systems
- Secularization levels – Favors NMF.
- Female autonomy and economic participation – Favors NMF.
In Temporal Terms
Initially very low before the early 18th century, NMF became a significant phenomenon in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. He doesn’t mention a cause, but the obvious suspect would be the wellknown secularization of European society after the religious wars of the 17th century.
NMF decreased significantly during the postwar miracle economy years, ushering in the “Golden Age of Marriage.” After 1960, however, this model began breaking down.
It began in Northern Europe, and then spread to Western and Central Europe by the 1980s; Southern and Eastern Europe followed in the 1990s, albeit the latter reversed direction from the mid-2000s, presumably due to some combination of economic stabilization and post-Soviet desecularization (indeed, Eastern Europe went from being the region with the highest share of out of wedlock births in the 1950s and 1960s, to the lowest share as of today). NMF in Northern Europe seems to have reached a plateau at around 50%, but continues rising steadily in Western Europe, having reached 64% in France.
The author links this with legislative actions providing greater autonomy for women, which is supported by institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights and the EU. Its worth noting that French laws on marriage and paternity are (in)famously favorable to women, prohibiting paternity testing without both partners’ consent and obligating men to look after “their” children even if they discover they are not theirs. In substantial part, ergo for Sweden. In such a legal environment, coupled with the high secularism rates and expansive welfare states, it is hardly surprising that many men appear to be “striking” against marriage.
In Regional Terms
In the 1910 map, the big cities in the more backward and traditionalist countries – Madrid in Spain, Rome in Italy, Saint Petersburg and Moscow in Russia – stand out, having West European like NMF rates in a sea of near universal traditional marriage patterns.
A century ago and earlier, Germany used to have a general east/west division, in which Bavaria belonged to the high NMF region (this is also mentioned by Emmanuel Todd in The Explanation of Ideology). But while Austria, which also had historically high NMF, remains an NMF hotspot to this day, Bavaria has converged with the rest of Western Germany; the author links this to its adoption of the unified German civil code in 1900, which stated that children born outside marriage were not related to the father and invalidated Bavarian regional legal norms giving out of wedlock children substantial rights.
Switzerland has traditionally had the lowest NMF rates of any Germanic region. Is in any way connected to the fact it was the last major European country to give women the vote?
This traditional east German propensity for high NMF (present well before the GDR), even continues to be reflected on the map of Poland today, where the parts previous under German rule continue to have somewhat higher NMF rates than the otherwise very low Polish average (just like the famous map of Polish voting patterns). Poland has traditionally had the lowest NMF rates in East-Central Europe, but since 1990 and especially since 2000 they have started going up sharply. In this case at least, Estonia can into Nordic.
In the future, Klüsener suggests increasing convergence between the Protestant and Catholic regions of Europe, as secularization in the latter drives up their NMF rates further. However, the Orthodox regions of Europe may be an exception to the general European pattern due to their “reactionary trend” of rising religiosity and rejection of a “wide range of family formation behaviors that are not in line with traditional norms.” As for the Muslim regions of Europe, their NMF rates remain stable at a very low level.