Swiss wedding bells fall silent

Wedding bells could become a thing of the past in Switzerland with less couples getting married in 2001.

The number of Swiss couples getting married has dropped significantly for the first time since the beginning of the First World War.

This content was published on February 10, 2002 - 10:36

Figures released by the Federal Statistics Office show that the number of couples taking their wedding vows dropped by 12 per cent, from 39,758 in 2000 to around 35,000 in 2001. It was the biggest recorded fall since 1913.

"It's difficult to pinpoint why there was such a substantial drop last year - but it fits in with the steady decrease in the rate of marriage we've seen since 1990," says Walter Zingg, an analyst at the Federal Statistics Office.

The only increase in the number of weddings during the last decade came three years ago, when many couples tied the knot on September 9, 1999.

Acceptable cohabitation

According to François Hoepflinger, a sociologist at the University of Zurich, one of the chief reasons for the decline is the rise in the number couples choosing to live together - either before or instead of exchanging vows.

"I think there's been a change of attitude to co-habitation, so that it's become perfectly acceptable now to live together," he says. "It's also interesting to note that fertility in cohabiting couples has also increased."

With cohabitation increasingly viewed as socially acceptable, the way marriage is perceived by younger couples has changed, argues Hoepflinger. He says getting married is seen as less of an "obligation".

"Couples no longer feel obliged to get married - and when they do tie the knot, they chose to invest a lot more in the ceremony and parties," Hoepflinger adds.

Long-term relationships

Hoepflinger points to a change in the romantic lives of young Swiss people, with many refusing to commit to long-term relationships until their late twenties or early thirties.

"Relationships have become a lot more casual, particularly in the early stages," says Hoepflinger.

"Instead of marrying at 20 or 25, couples are getting married at 30 or later," adds Zingg, who says the same trend is apparent among Switzerland's neighbours, such as Italy and Austria.

The low number of weddings in 2001 may also have been triggered partly by the introduction of a new divorce law, which means the whole process now takes longer.

"People have had to postpone secondary marriages because of the time it now takes to get divorced," says Zingg.

Drop in birth rate

A six per cent drop in the annual number of births was also recorded in 2001, with 73,500 births last year.

However, similar trends were recorded in the 1970s, when birth rates dropped by more than seven per cent between 1974 and 1975.

The latest statistics also revealed that the number of babies born to unmarried mothers rose, accounting for around 11 per cent of the total number of annual births.

by Vanessa Mock with agencies

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