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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

World Family Map Shows Global Trends in Family Structures, Childbearing

The fourth edition of the World Family Map (WFM) was released in early February 2017 by the Social Trends Institute and co-sponsored by the Institute for Family Studies. The map compiles data from the Social Trends Institute as well as from international education and nongovernmental institutions about family structure, socioeconomics, and culture from around the globe. This year’s report focuses particularly on the decrease of marital unions worldwide and the effects this has on family stability. The report begins with data on family structure, using the key indicators of family living arrangements, marital status, and childbearing situations.

Living Arrangements

In nearly all countries across the world, the majority of children under 18 live with both of their parents. In Middle Eastern and Asian countries, an average of 80-90% of children live with both parents, with India and Jordan at the highest with 93% and 94%, respectively. Among Europe and North America, the United Kingdom (67%) and the United States (62%) are the only countries with fewer than 75% of children living with both parents.

Overall, living apart from both parents is uncommon for most of the world, excepting parts of Africa and Central and South America. Children in Africa are least likely to live with both parents, due to high rates of teen marriage, high parental morality, and the common practice of sending children to live with other relatives. No specific reason was given for the statistics on Latin America, although the high rate of cohabitation (see below) undoubtedly plays a role.

Marriage and Cohabitation

Next, the WFM compares the number of couples who are married or cohabitating with the “age structures” (focusing primarily on adults of reproductive age, 15-49 years) of the countries.

Results across the world differ. Cohabitation is most common in Central and South America, with about half of reproductive-aged adults cohabitating, while only one-third cohabitate in most of Europe and North America. Particularly in Italy, younger couples are favoring cohabitation over marriage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Africa has a far higher amount of married couples than cohabiting couples.


Replacement fertility rates (the rate at which women give birth to enough children to sustain population levels), like numbers of cohabitating couples, vary widely across the world. Most of Africa and the Middle East have relatively high fertility rates (averages of 4.7 and 2.8, respectively), while North America and most of Europe and Asia are below replacement fertility (averages of 1.8, 1.5, and 1.8, respectively).

The lowest rates of children born outside of marriage occur in Asia and the Middle East. Many children are born outside of marriage in Eastern Europe (between 25-47%). This rate is even higher in North America (33-65%), while the rest of Europe varies between 29% (Italy) and 57% (France). Throughout the world, however, Central and South America have the highest rates of nonmartial childbearing; in most of these countries, over 67% of children are born outside of marriage.


Cultural traditions, societal pressures, and other factors affect living situations and familial structure. It is important to be aware of trends about marriage and the family around the world, most especially to know what action and pastoral care is needed to encourage marriage as the best place to raise children.