Hungary has the largest proportion of married couples per capita in the European Union, according to a Eurostat report from May, a major milestone that coincides with a dramatic increase in births over the last decade.
Marriage rates are generally declining in the EU since the 1960s, falling from eight per 1,000 people 60 years ago to only 3.2 today. The year 2020 was a particularly devastating one for marriages, with only 1.4 million taking place across the entire EU, compared with 1.9 million only a year before. Eurostat explains the dramatic decline with measures introduced to combat the spread of Covid-19, but this alone cannot explain the unprecedented fall.
Despite the dire state of marriage in Europe, It is important to break down the numbers by country, focusing on which have the largest and smallest number of marriages per capita. The EU member states with the highest number of marriages relative to the population were Hungary (6.9 marriages per 1,000 people), followed by the two Baltic states of Latvia (5.6) and Lithuania (5.5). In contrast, the lowest marriage rates were recorded in Italy (1.6), Portugal (1.8), Spain and Ireland (both 1.9).
Family-friendly policies have almost doubled the rate of marriages in Hungary
It is perhaps surprising that the strongest former bastions of Catholicism in Western Europe are, at the same time, the countries with the lowest levels of marriages. However, these are also the nations which in recent years have seen some of the most dramatic shifts politically and culturally to the left or to progressive liberalism. This is also the case with, for instance, Malta, a society deeply rooted in pro-marriage Catholicism, which has experienced the largest decreases in marriage rates in 2020 compared with 2019 (-3.1 marriages per 1,000 people). As with the four previous countries, an accompanying phenomenon is a succession of socialist secular governments, as well as high rates of non-European immigration.
It is worth looking at the Hungarian data again to determine what is behind such a standout marriage rate in a country that suffered over half a century of violent secularism under communist rule, and in the past, some of the fastest declining birth rates in Europe.
Hungary: New data shows pro-family policies continue to increase births and marriages
Hungary has gone a different route than many other European countries by emphasizing pro-family policies over mass migration
The numbers show that Hungary is not only the country with the highest number of marriages per capita in Europe. As marriage rates crashed between 2019 and 2020 across Europe, as shown above, Hungary was the only country in the EU where the number of marriages actually grew. Not only that, during the decade between 2010 and 2020, Hungary saw an incredible growth in marriages of 90 percent. If the 2021 data is also taken into account, the number of marriages has doubled since 2010.
Since 1975, marriages have steadily declined in Hungary, while the average age of those getting married rose. This decline abruptly stopped in 2010, the year a conservative government won a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament, which subsequently shifted its focus towards pro-family policies, the promotion of marriage, and a focus on stopping negative demographic trends as one of its trademark policies.
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It would be a gross oversimplification to ascribe all the credit for the turnaround to the policies of the government of Viktor Orbán, but to say that this is a coincidence would be an even more serious misinterpretation. According to the Maria Kopp Institute for Demographics and Families (KINCS), marriages in Hungary have stabilized in the past decade, and the most recent data show that tying the knot is also popular among young adults. KINCS’s research shows that Hungarians are increasingly adopting a family-centric worldview, and this is typical for the younger generation as well, the majority of whom express a desire for marriage and children.
There are countless studies that show that living within a family unit has measurable health benefits both for men and women. Apart from that, living within a nuclear family and raising children also shapes one’s views on society, the economy and security. The conservative Hungarian government recognized this reality and implemented a number of political reforms by introducing tax cuts to married couples, child-protection legislation, shielding Hungarians from anti-family activists who harass and denigrate the concept of family, and offering significant loans to families trying to purchase their first home. As a result, those sociologists who claimed that the share rise in marriages in Hungary was only a short-term phenomenon were proven comprehensively wrong.
The resulting deceleration in the demographic decline had gifted Hungary some 200,000 more children in the past decade as compared to the previous lower birth rate, and that alone is a vindication for those who believe in the success of Hungary’s pro-family and child-friendly policies.