Subject: USA TODAY-- Date: Thu, 16 Dec 2004 >21:07:42 -0600
Passed along from AFA Michigan:
Here's the result of Scandinavia's establishment a decade ago of
legally-recognized alternatives to marriage, such as so-called "civil
unions" for homosexual and heterosexual couples alike.
December 15, 2004
Nordic family ties don't mean tying the knot
by Noelle Knox, USA TODAY
BOD0, Norway — Marianne Kristensen got pregnant a few months after she
started dating Tommy Pettersen. So they decided to buy a house and move in
together. They say they are ready to become parents — the baby is due in
May — but not to get married.
"We don't know each other quite well yet," Pettersen, 27, an administration
officer in the Norwegian Air Force, says of his girlfriend, a 28-year-old
pharmacist. "So we have to live together and see if it works or not."
In Norway, half of all children are now born to unmarried mothers. In
Pettersen's county, 82% of couples have their first child out of wedlock.
The numbers are similarly high for Sweden and Denmark. While many couples
marry after having the first or second child, it's clear marriage in parts
of Scandinavia is dying.
In the USA, the percentage of children born to unwed mothers has more than
tripled since 1970. But there's still a stigma in the USA for women who
have a child out of wedlock. Not so in the Nordic countries.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the forces that have driven up the birth
rate for unmarried mothers are the same: the introduction of the birth
control pill, feminism, the rising number of women in the workforce and the
decline of religion. The roles of men and women in the family and society
have changed over the past 40 years. Traditional households headed by male
wage earners have waned, giving way to everything from single-parent
households to families that combine the children that parents have had
together and with other partners.
In Scandinavia, however, social trends have been reinforced by policies
designed to promote equality for women and further separate the church and
state. As a result, the link between marriage and having children has all
"Now days, no one notices if someone is pregnant without being married,"
says Carl-Johan Lidén, a priest for the Täby församling parish, part of the
Lutheran state church in Sweden. Lidén and his wife, AnneLi Amilon, lived
together for two years before getting married in January. Because Amilon,
also a priest in the Swedish Church, was four months pregnant, they had a
civil ceremony. They are planning a religious wedding next summer, and they
haven't decided whose last name to take.
In turning away from marriage, Scandinavians have done little to harm their
quality of life. Norway ranked first and Sweden second in the United
Nations' quality-of-life survey for 2004, which rates per capital income,
education levels, health care and life expectancy in measuring a nation's
well-being. The USA came in eighth.
But family policies in Scandinavian countries have a downside for women.
Female job candidates have a harder time getting work in the private
sector. Few rise to the management ranks. The reason: Companies are
reluctant to hire or promote women because they take so much time off to
raise their children.
A generation ago
When Margaret Nonshaugen got pregnant with her first child out of wedlock
in 1966, her parents made it clear she had to marry her boyfriend. "They
expected us to marry. And I was 18 or 19, so I said, 'Yes, I will,' " says
Nonshaugen, 57, a nurse. "I didn't have much education and I couldn't cope
on my own. So I had to. I really didn't mind. But I didn't want to marry
She had two children in the marriage, which lasted four years before they
divorced. She married a second time and had another child in a marriage
that lasted 16 years. She has been living with her current boyfriend in
Bod0 for seven years.
Her children have a very different view of matrimony.
"You choose a father and then you choose a different husband," says
Anne-Maren Hanssen, 25, Nonshaugen's youngest daughter. "It's like, 'You'd
be a great dad, but I don't want to marry you.' I've got quite a few
friends who've got kids and they decided the kids are their own."
Hanssen doesn't believe the traditional, one father/one mother family model
is necessarily best for raising kids. "I've had plenty of parents and I've
been pretty happy," says Hanssen, who studied dance in London and now is
applying to medical school.
She has no children and is not married. She says it would be blasphemous
for her to get married in a church. A civil service would be "highly
unromantic" and "a lot of papers to fill in and ceremony to go through for
something that might not really last that long, because you never know."
Scandinavians who don't marry tend to fall into one of two camps: those who
think the institution is largely meaningless and those who think it is too
big of a commitment.
Lidén, the Swedish priest, says he performs many baptisms for children of
unwed couples and asks them why they don't get married. "They think
marriage is such a big step in life that they want to be absolutely sure
before they do it," he explains. "My question is, 'What is it to be a
parent? Isn't that the biggest step in life?' But they don't see it that
Instead, Scandinavian people tend to see American views on marriage and
children as conservative at best and hypocritical at worst, pointing out
the high divorce rates in the USA.
One reason to marry
Social welfare policies in Scandinavia treat all parents the same, married
"The government does not think it is their place to show people how they
are supposed to live," says Maria Lidström, a co-coordinator for family
policy for Sweden's division of children and family affairs. "Since it was
(becoming) more common to live together and have children without marrying,
they introduced laws that made it easier for families who were not
In Scandinavia, there is no "family values" debate, no soul-searching for
ways to reverse the upward trend in divorces and separations. Instead, "the
discussion has been more focused on how can we help people who want to
split up? How can we make it easier for single parents?" she says. "It's
not that the government encourages it. They adapt to make it easier for
single parents, single mothers."
So, the state provides maintenance allowances for children (in the event
the father does not pay support), and housing allowances. About two-thirds
of single mothers in Sweden, for example, receive housing allowances.
Of course, there is some concern among Christian groups about the shrinking
number of married couples in Scandinavia. Some critics have raised
questions about the impact on children of these relationships.
Laila Dĺvřy, the minister for Norway's department for children and family
affairs and a member of the Christian Democratic Party, is at a loss to
explain why people don't want to get married. "The traditional marriage in
our society is more and more unusual than living together, and I'm very
concerned about this."
One remaining incentive to marry is inheritance rights. If one parent dies,
the other parent inherits if the couple are married. If not, the assets go
to the children.
That's why Espen Aasen and Trine Anker got married four years ago. They had
been living together for 10 years and had two children. Then, they bought a
book on how to draw up a partnership contract, which many couples do to
protect their assets in case of a breakup. In the end, they decided it was
easier to get married.
The couple — he is the deputy director general for Norway's finance
department and she is a grade school teacher — say being married hasn't
made a difference in their relationship. Neither wears a wedding ring.
"The idea of the holiness of the marriage has disappeared because there are
so many broken marriages," Anker explains.
There is little religious pressure to get married. Even though there are
state churches in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, few people go. Church
attendance in Sweden, for example, is just 7% for men and 11% for women.
(In the USA, 59% of people say they go to church or synagogue at least once
"Religion has had too many bad things going for it for too long," Hanssen
says. "Every single war, every single conflict, everything has been based
on religion; so it just reaches a point where you say, 'If God is that
great, he's not doing a very good job, is he?' Eventually, you end up
choosing not to believe because to me it's just too much of a
contradiction. I've got to hope there's no God, because if there is, I've
got some issues with him."
Attitudes not created equal
When there is a wedding, the focus is not on the ceremony, but on the
party. Everyone talks about the party. The typical wedding party costs
about $9,700 and lasts into the wee morning hours, with dinners, speeches,
slide shows, songs and late-night snacks.
Social attitudes toward equality have broken down some marriage traditions.
The man no longer asks for permission from the parents of his future bride.
The bride walks down the aisle alone. "In America, the father gives the
bride away. Some priests with the Swedish Church won't do that," says Tove
Leijon, a wedding planner in Stockholm.
But when women walk in for a job interview, the world is not so equal.
About half of all women in Sweden work in the public sector. By contrast,
77% of women in the USA work in the private sector. Of managers in the
private sector, about 20% are women in Nordic countries, vs. 37% in the
USA. The reason: Family leave in Scandinavia ranges from one to two years —
with 80% pay — and is fairly evenly divided between the parents.
Here, fathers typically transfer almost all of their time-off to the
mothers. And because mothers take so much time off work, companies are more
reluctant to hire them. The result: women tend to find jobs in more
flexible sectors like health care, teaching or government. And they aren't
promoted as often as men.
Scandinavian governments are now considering changing the laws to require
men to take more of their share of child leave after the baby is born.
"Ultimately (the government) wants to help women in the workforce to make
them more competitive," says Lidström, the Swedish co-coordinator for
family policy, "The other reason is to make men more involved in the family
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