Many countries have experienced very significant changes in the patterns of family formation and family structure in recent years. Couples are more likely to live together outside marriage, to marry later, to have fewer children, to separate and divorce, to remarry or live with a new partner, and individuals are more likely to live alone. Families have become more diverse and less stable. The 1996 report of the EU Observatory on National Family Policies (Ditch et al., 1998:9) summed up these trends as follows:
Patterns of family formation and dissolution are changing throughout Europe, and although the changes have been much greater in some countries than in others, they appear to be moving in a common direction. In general, the changes point to a more diverse and complex set of behaviour in terms of forming families, and a greater degree of instability in such formations.