A close look at the data suggests reveals no clearcut correlation between family formation/dissolution patterns and fertility levels. The percentage of “illegitimate” births in Mediterranean Europe was minimal before the 1980s and in Italy and Spain even only reached a rate of about 1 out of 10 births by the mid 1990s.
In contrast this proportion reaches approximately one-third of all births in France and the United Kingdom and over one-half of those in Sweden by the 1990s. This percentage tends to rise steadily from year to year in spite of sizable short-term fertility fluctuations, especially in Sweden and France. In the case of Germany, however, it is noticeable that the percentage of children born out of wedlock had stabilized by the 1990s (around one-sixth): this is an interesting result since marriage and the family are protected by the German Constitution and since unification the number of births has been halved in the east, where “illegitimacy” was previously massive (See table below). Countries with so-called traditional family structures (high marriage rate, low divorce rate, low illegitimacy rate, etc.) like Italy and Spain were totally “detraditionalized” in terms of fertility in less than two decades. The level of births in these two countries has plummeted to previously wholly unpredicted levels. No official population forecast, either national or international, had anticipated a total fertility rate of 1.2 for any country, and least of all for the Mediterranean countries, which are still commonly viewed as “laggards” and often as being family-oriented. This outcome is probably the biggest surprise in European demographics as it entered the present century.
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