In France, family remains important, but marriage does not


Western Europe


Family still exists but gets new forms continuously. That says a new handbook on family in France. Photo EPA, Franck Robichon

Also, in modern times, marriage still flourishes. But the shape and context are different. And marriage is no longer essential.

That is the conclusion of the French family specialist Prof François de Singly. On Wednesday (one day after Valentine’s Day), he published a new edition of his standard work “Sociology of contemporary families”. The Catholic daily La Croix publishes an interview with him.


The family still exists but in a new form. The model continues and reinvents itself. The consequence is that marriage becomes “secondary”. “It has been called into question, not only ideologically in relation to a system of values, but because its primary function, which was to create a difference in filiation between legitimate and natural children, has disappeared.”

In France today, more than 60 per cent of children are born out of wedlock. “Nevertheless, people value this ceremony, even if they rarely place it at the beginning of their life as a couple. Except for believers, marriage is no longer based on principles. It remains a public act and still represents something positive at a time when there are no more rituals. Still, many couples marry first to celebrate and more among friends than family.”

Head of family

Throughout history, there are different forms of families, Singly sees. In “modern family 1”, the married spouses “love each” other, which is different from the past. The man is still the “head of the family”.

A new family version grows in the 1960s. In those times, the child’s personal development gets attention, and the mother tries to become more independent. That leads, among others, to the divorce legislation in 1975.

In the present day, we see “modern family 3”, Singly says. The central characteristic is not the openness to same-sex parenthood but the “refusal on the part of women to take charge of men, ensuring including most of the domestic work.” Another characteristic is the option to be married and have a family but not live together under one roof.


The French family expert does not see the opening of marriage for homosexuals as a significant change. It did not even go about marriage, he says. Gays mainly demanded the option of children’s adoption.

Also, divorce does not break down the family as such. The institution of marriage gets less critical, and the place of the individual (especially the woman) receives more weight.



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.