Long-run data on the share of people living in cohabitation across countries is not available, but some related datapoints are: In particular, the proportion of births outside marriage provide a relevant proxy measure, allowing comparisons across countries and time; if more unmarried people are having children, it suggests that more people are entering long-term cohabiting relationships without first getting married. It isn’t a perfect proxy – as we’ll see below, rates of single parenting have also changed, meaning that rates of births outside marriage will not match perfectly with cohabitation rates – but it provides some information regarding the direction of change.
As we can see, the share of children born outside of marriage has increased substantially in almost all OECD countries in recent decades. The exception is Japan, where there has been only a very minor increase.
In 1970, most OECD countries saw less than 10% of children born outside of , the share had increased to more than 20% in most countries, and to more than half in some.
The trend is not restricted to very rich countries. In Mexico and Costa Rica, for example, the increase has been very large, and today the majority of children are born to unmarried parents.
Globally, the percentage of women in either marriage or cohabitation is decreasing, but only slightly
In recent decades there has been a e time that there has been an increase in cohabitation. What’s the combined effect if we consider marriage and cohabitation together?
The chart below plots estimates and projections, from the UN Population Division, for the percentage of women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years) who are either married or living with an unmarried partner.
Overall, the trend shows a global decline – but only a relatively small one, from 69% in 1970 to 64% projected for 2020. At any given point in the last five decades, around two-thirds of all women were married or cohabitated.
There are differences between regions. In East Asia the share of women who are erica the share is flat, and in North America and North Europe it declined.
Single parenting is common, and in many countries it has increased in recent decades
There are large differences between countries. In Colombia there has been an upward trend, and according to the most recent estimates, 13% of all households are a single parent with one or more dependent children. In India, on the other hand, the corresponding figure is 5%, with no clear trend up or down. 6
The causes and situations leading to single parenting are varied, and unsurprisingly, single-parent families are very diverse in terms of socio-economic background and living arrangements, across countries, within countries, and over time. However, there are some common patterns:
- Women head the majority of single-parent households, and this gender gap tends to be stronger for parents of younger children. Across OECD countries, about 12% of children aged 0-5 years live with a single parent; 92% of these live with their mother. 7
- Single-parent households are among the most financially vulnerable groups. This is true even in rich countries. According to Eurostat data, across European countries 47% of single-parent households were “at risk of poverty or social exclusion” in 2017, compared with 21% of two-parent households. 8
- Single parenting was probably more common a couple of centuries ago. But single parenting back then was often caused by high maternal mortality rather than choice or relationship breakdown; and it was also typically short in duration, since remarriage rates were high. 9
Marriage equality is increasingly considered a human and civil right, with important political, social, and religious implications around the world.