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Family Values

A lot of evidence suggests that the family and family-related values enjoy agreement in all social groups and age groups. Three-quarters of Austrians say that they need a family to be happy and nine out of ten Austrians between the ages of 20 and 40 would like to see more weight given to family life in the future. Austrians also view the traditional nuclear family as the standard, that is, family defined as a social group consisting of a man and a woman (married to each other) as parents and their children. Asked about the ideal family size, almost two-thirds of Austrians prefer two children, with almost another third favouring three children; only 1 percent consider childlessness as the best way of life. Around 80 percent in the Population Policy Acceptance Survey view the increasing number of divorces as a negative trend in society. However, Austrians view divorces between childless couples much less negatively, and a great majority want more restrictive divorce laws.

Compared to other European societies, Austrians have conservative attitudes toward abortion and divorce. Furthermore, according to the European Value Study, they give greater support to the traditional separation of gender roles and the homemaker role for mothers. At the same time, they highly appreciate the financial aspect of women's contribution to household income. There seems to be broad agreement—even among the older generation—that married women should be working outside home in the period between the wedding and the birth of the first child, as well as in the period after the children have left school. However, Austrians remain conservative about employment outside the home for women with small children. More than 80 percent agree that pre-school children suffer when their mothers are employed for pay.

A large majority of Austrians disapprove of abortion (between 83% and 67% in various surveys)—which can be legally performed within the first three months of pregnancy if the mother is unmarried or the couple does not want any more children. A minority of one-third oppose abortion in case of an expected birth defect.

Thus, Austrians' subjective attitudes could not be much more positive toward marriage and family, although defined in a rather traditional mode. At the same time, the evidence suggests a wide variety of existing living arrangements, including consensual unions and couples living apart together— i.e., married couples and families maintaing separate households. It also points to a growing number of more complex family forms, including continuation marriages—i.e., remarriage and the formation of a new family following divorce and family disruption—and middle-aged unmarried couples with children from previous relationships.

Living Arrangements

Marriage as a legal institution is losing ground. Since the 1960s, age-specific marriage rates (taking into account the age structure of the population) have dropped by a half. It is estimated that among the younger generation now in their late teens or early twenties, the number of life-long never married men and women could reach 30 and 25 percent, respectively.

The divorce rate has increased steadily since the end of the 1960s. As of the early twenty-first century, statistics suggested that four out of ten marriages would end in divorce, up from only two in the early 1970s. There is a clear relationship between the number of children in a marriage and the probability of divorce—more than one-third of all terminated marriages were childless as of 2000. The most frequently cited reasons for divorce are unfulfilled demands for personal happiness, harmony, and sexual fulfillment.

At least among young people, other forms of cohabitation are replacing legally authorized marriage. A large majority of all childless young couples start in consensual unions. As standard behavior, this is accepted even by a majority of elderly people. At the same time, more people in their twenties are remaining in the parental household. Consequently, the life phase of post-adolescence (from nineteen to under thirty years) has changed in character. Since the mid-1970s the age at first marriage has increased significantly and was as of 2000 over twenty-seven years for women and thirty for men (which is still low by Scandinavian standards). However, the birth of a child still leads to marriage in many cases; three-fourths of all one-year-old children live with both parents.

22 percent of Austrians live in households consisting of at least three adults (usually parents and grandparents) plus children; this is approximately the same rate as in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, and three times higher than in Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

The family life of the various ethnic groups (Turks, Serbs, Croats, etc.) living in Austria probably deviates from the social patterns described above. Unfortunately, this research area has been neglected, although foreign families make up an increasing proportion of the population: The proportion of marriages including at least one non-Austrian partner is around 20 percent in the year 2000; one out of five newborn babies has at least one foreign parent.


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Last Updated (Friday, 25 June 2010 06:44)