The Family Kaleidoscope
Edited by Dimitri Mortelmans, Koenraad Matthijs, Elisabeth Alofs and Barbara Segaert
Chapter 2: Fifty years of family change in Europe: diversifying partnerships
The increase in female labour force participation, as well as the availability of effective contraceptive methods and legal access to abortion, have led to the growing empowerment of women in Europe. Marriage as an institution has been dramatically weakened, both as a way to enter a union and as a bond which can be broken only by the death of a partner. Unmarried cohabitation has become frequent and is now seen as a long-term option for couples, especially in countries where the legal situation of children is only marginally dependent on the parents' marital status. At the same time, the increase in divorce and in dissolution of non-marital unions is leading to an increasing diversity of life courses. Moreover, new forms of union have emerged – such as stepfamilies, ‘living apart together’ and same-sex unions – in which partners are assuming new family roles. These new forms of union are challenging the usual typologies of couples and families, our standard tools for describing and understanding the conjugal situations of adults. These trends have spread across Europe in the last 50 years, but large differences remain between countries, each following a path that reflects its specific cultural, social and political identity.
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