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Living Arrangements

Marriage as a legal institution is losing ground. Since the 1960s, age-specific marriage rates (taking A family in the yard of a farmhouse in Hunspach, Austria. Traditional family structures and values are held in high regard among a majority of Austrians. Seventy-five percent of the population considers a family to be essential to happiness. MARC GARANGER/CORBIS into account the age structure of the population) have dropped by a half. This trend signals profound structural and behavioral changes: extended education; more insecure part-time and flexible jobs; and new self-fulfillment values that do not promote early commitment. It is estimated (Kytir and Münz 1999) that among the younger generation now in their late teens or early twenties, the number of life-long never married men and women could reach 30 and 25 percent, respectively.

The divorce rate has increased steadily since the end of the 1960s. As of the early twenty-first century, statistics suggested that four out of ten marriages would end in divorce, up from only two in the early 1970s. There is a clear relationship between the number of children in a marriage and the probability of divorce—more than one-third of all terminated marriages were childless as of 2000. The most frequently cited reasons for divorce are unfulfilled demands for personal happiness, harmony, and sexual fulfillment (Benard and Schlaffer 1995).

At least among young people, other forms of cohabitation are replacing legally authorized marriage. A large majority of all childless young couples start their conjugal life in consensual unions. As standard behavior, this is accepted even by a majority of elderly people (Prinz 1998). At the same time, more people in their twenties are remaining in the parental household. Consequently, the life phase of postadolescence (from nineteen to under thirty years) has changed in character. Since the mid-1970s the mean age at first marriage has increased considerably and was as of 2000 over twenty-seven years for women and thirty for men (which is still low by Scandinavian standards). However, the birth of a child still leads to marriage in many cases; three-fourths of all one-year-old children live with both parents. Rosemarie Nave-Herz (1989) speaks of a "child-oriented marriage pattern."

The most striking feature of household composition is the high rate of intergenerational coresidence: 22 percent of Austrians live in households consisting of at least three adults (usually parents and grandparents) plus children; this is approximately the same rate as in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, and three times higher than in Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands (European Commission household panel 1995, cited in Fotakis 2000).

The family life of the various ethnic groups (Turks, Serbs, Croats, etc.) living in Austria probably deviates from the social patterns described above. Unfortunately, this research area has been neglected, although foreign families make up an increasing proportion of the population: The proportion of marriages including at least one non-Austrian partner is around 20 percent (2000); one out of five newborn babies has at least one foreign parent.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsAustria - Family Values, Sociodemographic Trends, Living Arrangements, Consequences Of Increased Life Expectancy, Family And Social Policy