The institution of marriage is on the decline in Belgium. According to data released by Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, the number of marriages fell to all-time lows in 2020, which follows a general decline since the end of World War Two.
In 1920, there were roughly 14.1 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants in Belgium, or 106,514 marriages, according to statistics recovered from civil registry forms. In 2020, there were just 2.9 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants, or just 32,779 marriages for the whole year, over four times less.
This is the lowest level of marriages ever recorded in Belgium since 1870, but Statbel partially blames this slump on the Covid-19 pandemic. Belgium’s lockdowns and anti-pandemic measures severely restricted Belgians from hosting large gatherings and ceremonies.
Marriages decrease in popularity
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the data shows that marriage is on the decline. Even before the pandemic in 2019, there were just 3.9 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants in Belgium, just 28% of 1920 levels.
In fact, the rate of marriages before the pandemic was even less than in 1940, when Belgium was invaded by Nazi Germany, forcing millions of Belgians to flee the country.
The reason for this may be Belgium’s high divorce rate. According to Statbel, four marriages out of ten end in a divorce in Belgium, lasting an average of 14.9 years before separation.
Belgium is above the EU average of 1.8 divorces per 1,000 people per year. In 2019, every two Belgian couples per 1,000 inhabitants got a divorce, according to Eurostat.
Marriage is becoming less popular across the globe in general. Most developed countries have witnessed decreases in marriages since World War Two. Cohabitation, extra-marital births, single parenthood and same-sex marriages are becoming increasingly more common across the world.
Not only are people marrying less, they are also marrying later. More Europeans are getting married well into their thirties, as opposed to their late twenties. In Belgium, the average age of citizens at their first marriage is now 33 years old, up from 31 in 2015.
According to researchers, the early to mid 1960s marked the “Golden Age of the Family” in Europe.
Now, fertility rates have declined below the level needed for population replacement and couple relationships have become statistically more fragile, for both families with and without children.