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17 December, 2012

Why Marriage is Declining in France

Old sociology textbooks analyze only one type of modern family: a nuclear formation with the father and the mother linked by marriage and children. Today, the classic family model no longer exists and the institution of marriage is being constantly diluted. This trend is now evolving in France.

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), the number of marriages registered annually went from 290,000 in 2001 to 235,000 in 2011. The average marriage age went from 28 to 30 for women and 30.2 to 31.8 for men between 2001 and 2011 respectively.

The first reason for this is that more and more people opted for civil unions, known as PACS in France. This is the Civil Pact of Solidarity introduced in 1999 as legislation that allows two people of different genders or the same gender to arrange their life together in compliance with rights and duties similar to those of a marriage. In 2010, 203,882 couples chose PACS, almost catching up with the rate of marriages that year. The share of same-sex PACS unions is just 6%.

The second reason is the fading social role of the Catholic Church that has virtually lost all its power and no longer promotes and imposes conventional values, marriage and family first and foremost. The third reason lies in the public opinion, which calls on societies to create conditions that would allow same-sex couples to live together, agree on heritage rights, adopt children legitimately and have family medical insurance. News about the drafting of a law on same-sex families announced by France’s Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira in September 2012 fuelled much debate, especially among conservative citizens and the Catholic Church. The fourth reason is medical and technical progress. In vitro fertilization and more possibilities for using surrogate mothers open new prospects described in detail by biologist and philosopher Henri Atlan in his book Artificial Womb. These prospects create new forms of life. Differences in legislation among countries has resulted in the establishment of a fertilization market of sorts: different couples, both homosexual and heterosexual, travel abroad seeking medical aid that is forbidden in their home countries. Finally, economic and social difficulties and the need to work abroad create an additional burden on family lifestyle and structure. An incomplete family in France often includes a poor migrant woman bringing up her children alone.

These profound transformations have provoked ardent debate where different religious, moral, ethical and pedagogical concepts collide. Is it acceptable to tackle deep differences between genders and generations? Do they comply with Christian dogma? To what extent can technologies that modify culture, and therefore our concept of human nature, be applied? Does a child really need both parents? Is it acceptable for a child not to know its biological origin? These debates are renewed in the intellectual arena. The decline of marriage essentially reflects an aspect of the general changes facing of our society.

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