Fewer marriages, more unwed parents

ONE in three Spanish babies is born to an unmarried woman – twice as many as 10 years ago.

Fewer couples feeling the need marry, women deliberately seeking single parenthood, greater tolerance, the diminishing influence of religion and immigration are the principal reasons. When 1981 changes to the Civil Code eliminated legal differences between the children of cohabiting and married parents, 4.4 per cent of babies were born out of wedlock.

By 2000 this rose to 17.7 per cent and in 2009 jumped to 34.5 per cent, according to the latest figures from the official Statistics Institute (INE). Nationality played an important part, as the majority of single mothers were Spanish.  Babies born to unmarried immigrants rose from 35.6 per cent in 2000 to 41.7 per cent in 2009, a figure that had remained relatively stable since 2002 according to INE.

“These are amazing statistics,” said Constanza Tobio, Sociology professor at Madrid’s Carlos III university.  “Spanish women have changed rapidly.” Relationships had altered and there were few differences between Spanish women and their British or Swedish counterparts, according to Tobio.

There was no longer any social stigma attached to being a single mother, although women deliberately choosing single parenthood remained a minority. Couples already living together would once decide to marry when wanting to start a family, but this was no longer happening, observed statistics expert, Daniel Devolder.

“They don’t like the old conventions and their parents see it as normal for them to live together without getting married.  The idea of being a couple has evolved and is no longer expected to last forever,” Devolder said.

More babies were born to unmarried couples in the Canary Islands than anywhere else in Spain, with 56.75 per cent of births, followed by the Balearics with 41.4 per cent and Cataluña with 38.5 per cent.  Navarra – a region with a high proportion of churchgoers – had the fewest, with 25.7 per cent of births.

By Annie Maples

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