Family and birth of children

​Although in many countries the number of desired children has diminished in recent years, the desire to have children in Estonia has remained relatively stable. An average Estonian family wants 2.3 children, which is high compared with other European countries. Men seem to desire more or less the same number of children as women. The real number of births, however, is considerably smaller than the number of desired children, although it matches the average level in Europe.

​In Estonia, a remarkable number of children are born in families where the parents have not officially registered their cohabitation. Amongst European countries, only Iceland has had a higher number of children born out of wedlock in the 21st century than in Estonia.  Here the number especially increased in the 1990s and in the first decade of the 21st century; in 2009, for example, it rose to 60% of all births. There is no social stigma in Estonia attached to having a child outside registered marriage. There is also not much difference in practical life in whether a child’s parents are married or not. A child’s birth raises the frequency of registering cohabitation, but it is still quite normal that children are brought up in a common-law marriage. There are relatively few single mothers, i.e. 7%. Marriage is most often registered after two years of cohabitation, but there are couples who live their whole lives without getting married.

​According to the 2000 census, 50% of men and 42% of women were in registered marriages. Of all the cohabitations, 21% were officially unregistered. The highest percentage of people in common-law marriages was among the divorced (29%) and among those who had never been married (20%).

The number of divorces per capita in Estonia is among the highest in Europe, although in the 21st century this seems to be in decline. This can be linked to the widespread occurrence of common-law marriages. As a couple usually gets married after some time of living together, the partner is well known and thus surprises in character are not reasons for divorce.

In the 1990s, a new type of reproductive behaviour was gradually adopted in Estonia. Historically, the number of births stayed above the reproduction level (more than two children per woman) until the early 1990s. The years 1987–1990 produced an historical high in the number of births in Estonia. The atmosphere of national freedom certainly played a role in the increased birth rate.

​In the early 1990s, the birth rate began to decline. The sense of insecurity deepened: unemployment rose, kindergartens were closed down, and there was talk of fees being charged for education. Many young families postponed having children because they had little hope of improving their living conditions. They were primarily interested in trying to acquire a profession, find a job and secure their income. The curve of the birth rate resembled that of 1930–1935. The lowest birth rate per woman was registered in 1998 – 1.3. After that the birth rate gradually increased. This was partly a result of no longer postponing births. The general economic situation also improved and people felt more secure about having children. The poverty level of families with children diminished.

​By 2009 the Estonian total fertility rate increased to 1.6 children per woman, which was the average in European countries, although lower than the Estonian rate of the late 1980s. The number of second and third children has particularly increased, whereas the number of fourth (or more) children has decreased.

​Although the average age of Estonian first-time mothers in 1990–2009 rose at three times the rate of other European Union countries, women still have their first child at a relatively young age. In 2009 the average age of a first-time mother was 26. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the most common age to become a mother has been between 25 and 29. Having a child at a later age has been increasingly influenced by health and circumstances connected with premature mortality. Although the fertility level of Estonian men is rather good, there are more women in Estonia because of the premature deaths of men from 30 year-olds onwards, i.e. not all women in that age category can find a husband.

​In many countries the results of artificial insemination, and thus the share of multiple births, is statistically significant, whereas in Estonia the impact of fertility treatment on the structure of births in the first decade of the 21st century is not that obvious. Some increase in the birth of multiple siblings can be observed since 1998, although the level of multiple births is still relatively small. In 2009 they formed only 0.02% of all births.

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