Have young Czechs given up on marriage?

According to the European Union's Statistical Office Eurostat Czechs are at the top end of the European divorce ladder - second only to Belgians and Estonians. At the same time a change of lifestyle after 1989 has resulted in fewer young people tying the knot. So - with the number of divorces on the rise and the number of marriages on the decline - does the institution of marriage have a future in this country?

Every year around 30 thousand Czech couples divorce. Although 40 percent of them will eventually remarry, they only stand a fifty percent chance of making their second marriage work. For many couples divorce is no longer a last-ditch solution. Petra Salamounova from the Demographic Institute of the Academy of Sciences says that a new divorce law passed in the late 1990s has made divorce much easier.

"At the end of the 90s a new law came into effect which introduced so called amicable divorces. This means that if both parties agree on the conditions of divorce and say that they are divorcing due to the 'incompatibility of their personalities' then the divorce is quick and no hurdles are placed in their way."

Because the majority of Czech women work they feel confident about being able to support themselves after divorce. But it also makes them less hasty to enter into a marriage now that the pressure of society is no longer there. So alongside the high divorce rate there is a new phenomenon. Young people are living together - and even raising a family - without tying the knot. Very often this is for practical reasons - they are waiting to grow more confident of the relationship, the woman gets more money from the state as a "single mother" or they do not want to fall into the trap of "marriage boredom". Although the "singles" existence has taken root in the Czech Republic and people often put off making a serious commitment until their thirties Petra Salamounova says that this is not because young people have rejected the idea of marriage.

"You know we have noted a marked discrepancy in beliefs and attitudes when we do polls. People will tell you that marriage is important, especially if you are raising children, but then you find that many of them are not married. Not because they want to be single all their lives -or no longer believe in the institution of marriage but for various practical reasons. Because under the circumstances, with the given partner, that is how it worked out."

On several occasions in the past the state encouraged couples living together to get married and have children by giving them financial advantages - but sociologists say this is not a good idea. They claim that most couples who have a sound relationship get round to it anyway in their own good time. And orchestrated baby booms upset the balance in society - giving baby-boomers a hard time at school, on the job market and in retirement.