12% of European households have 3 or more children

In 2021, of the 197 million households in the EU, approximately one quarter had children living with them (24%).

Among these households with children, those with one child were the most common (49% of households with children). Meanwhile, 39% had two children and 12% had three or more children. Around 13% of households with children consisted of single parents (6 million households), accounting for 3% of all households.

Presence and number of children

In 2021, the EU recorded an increase of 14.5 % in households without children and a decrease of 3.4 % in households with children, compared with 2009 (see Figure 6).

At national level, most countries (23 out of 26 with available data) recorded an increase in the number of households without children between 2009 and 2021. The highest increase was recorded in Malta (+65.7 %), followed by Luxembourg (+41.8 %), Cyprus (+39.4 %) and Sweden (+35.8 %). Only Slovakia (-1.6 %), Bulgaria (-1.9 %) and Greece (-7.4 %) had fewer households without children in 2021 than in 2009.

Regarding households with children, the trend is relatively different among the EU Member States. The number of households with children fell in 16 countries, with the largest decrease found in Lithuania (-21.7 %). It remained stable in Slovakia, and increased in 9 countries, including Luxembourg and Malta, where it increased by over 10 % (+13.7 % and +11.5 %, respectively).

Figure 6: Growth rate of households with and without children
Source: Eurostat 

The 2021 distribution of households shows that the proportion of households in which children live can vary considerably from one country to another (see Figure 7).

At EU level, around one quarter of households (24.4 %) included children. At the top of the scale, children lived in more than 30 % of households in Ireland, Slovakia, Cyprus, Portugal and Romania. By contrast, children were found in less than 20 % of households in Germany and Finland.

Around two thirds (64.0 %) of households with children at EU level comprised couples. In the majority of EU countries, this is the most common type of household with children. Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Greece recorded the highest shares, with couples representing more than 70 % of the total number of households with children. Bulgaria and Latvia showed the lowest shares, with less than 50 % of households with children being couples.

The highest shares of single parents among households with children in the EU were found in Estonia, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia (all with more than 20 %). Slovakia, Croatia, Greece and Slovenia had the lowest proportions of single parents (all recording a percentage less than 5 %). In the whole European Union, single parents accounted for 12.6 % of households with children.

Other type of households represented less than one quarter (23.4 %) of total households with children at EU level. This share varied widely among the EU countries: from more than 35 % in Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia to less than 15 % in Finland, Estonia, Denmark and Sweden.

Among households without children in the EU in 2021, around half of them comprised single adults (47.4 %), around one third were couples (32.4 %) and one fifth were households with two adults (who were not a couple) or more (20.2 %).

Figure 7: Households by type and presence of children, 2021
Source: Eurostat 

Among households with children, those with just 1 child are the most common. In 2021, in the EU, almost half of households with children had just 1 child (49.4 %). Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania had the highest shares of households with 1 child, more than 55 %. By contrast, the lowest shares were in Ireland and Sweden, where households with 1 child comprised less than 40 % of households with children (see Figure 8).

At EU level in 2021, 38.6 % of households with children included 2 children. Households with 2 children were most frequent in Sweden, the Netherlands and Slovenia, representing 47.0 %, 44.0 % and 42.4 %, respectively, of households with children in those countries.

In the EU, 12.0 % of the households with children in 2021 consisted of households with 3 or more children. Ireland, Finland, Croatia, Belgium, France, Sweden, Greece and the Netherlands recorded the highest shares of households with 3 children or more, all above 15 %. On the other end of the scale, in Malta, Lithuania, Czechia, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria, fewer than 1 in 10 households with children had 3 children or more.

Figure 8: Households by number of children, 2021
Source: Eurostat 

Employment differences between women with and without children

In 24 EU Member States, the share of part-time employment among employed women aged 25-54 with children was larger than that for women without children. Among these countries, the gap was largest in central and western EU Member States, such as Germany (34.0 percentage points), Austria (32.3 pp) and the Netherlands (27.3 pp). In general, smaller gaps were recorded in eastern EU Member States.

In contrast, the share of part-time employment among employed women aged 25-54 without children was larger than that for women with children in Denmark (with 2.7 pp), Portugal (2.3 pp) and Latvia (1.8 pp).

While some Member States reported smaller gaps in part-time employment between women with and without children, women with children had a significantly lower employment rate than those without in most countries. For example, while Romania only recorded a very small difference between part-time employed women with children and without children (0.2 pp), it was among the Member States with the largest gaps between the employment rate of women with children and those without (10.8 pp).

It should also be noted that part-time employment is significantly dependent on the level of education. This topic is further developed in the article on employment characteristics of households (link below).

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