Europe’s Poor Little PIIGS

November 21st, 2011 by Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse

The Roman philosopher and orator, Cicero, once said, “The first bond of society is marriage.”  He believed that an intact family structure — a married mom and dad — was essential to the well-being of a strong society.  Indeed, the institution of marriage has been the bedrock of civilization for thousands of years; yet today, marriage and family as we have known them are under attack.  While the social science research clearly and unequivocally shows that marriage is central to the welfare of individuals and the entire social order, unwarranted changes in family structure are profoundly reshaping our post-modern society and even our global economies.

The PIIGS, an ugly acronym coined to represent Europe’s most financially troubled countries, including Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, are experiencing grave breakdowns in their economies paralleled with declines in marriage.  Over 70 percent of Portuguese and Italians, and 68 percent of Spaniards, say marriage is irrelevant today — and of those who make it to the church altar, only one in three Portuguese and Spaniards believe that marriage is for life!  In Italy, where the Catholic church still maintains a strong cultural presence and where divorce rates are the lowest in Europe, only half (48 percent) believe that marriage today will last a lifetime.  In Greece, a startling 74 percent of consumers say marriage is not a lifetime goal for them.

The PIIGS’ economies aren’t the only things shrinking; unfortunately, their populations are also on the decline.  The future looks bleak for these countries that are undoubtedly facing demographic time bombs, with dismal fertility rates and an increase in the so-called old-age dependency ratio (OADR), which means, “fewer working-age people to pay for the health and pension benefits of a growing older population.”  Of the PIIGS, Ireland has the brightest fertility outlook, with total fertility measured at 2.1 (children per woman) and Greece, following at 1.5.  Italy, Portugal, and Spain all have fertility rates of 1.4 children per woman, which is a growing concern in terms of exasperating the old-age dependency ratio.

Throughout the years, what we have learned, to our sorrow, is that the consequences of the decline in marriage and breakdown of the family have not only negatively affected generations of individuals on a personal level, the decline of marriage has undermined social institutions and shaken the stability and economic viability of nations.

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