Registered partnerships rise in popularity

Edition 28 September, byLorre Luther

Dutch couples are increasingly turning to registered partnerships when they decide to make their relationship official. In 2016, almost 81,000 couples entered into a legally recognized commitment. Just over 19 percent chose registered partnership instead of marriage, according to data collected by Statistics Netherlands, CBS. Registered partnership in the Netherlands resembles marriage in almost all legal respects. As of 2014, for example, Dutch law automatically recognizes the paternity of a child born to a heterosexual couple living in this type of legally acknowledged arrangement.

In 1998, the year the Netherlands introduced registered partnership, 4,626 couples elected the new form of commitment. Dutch couples largely shied away from the new alternative in the years immediately following its debut. The number of unions formalized using the novel legal option initially declined for several years. Its popularity reached an all-time low with the registration of only 2,188 partnerships in 2001.

Eventually the tide turned and more couples began to select this form of official commitment. Over the past 15 years, registered partnerships have substantially grown in popularity. In 2014, 10,363 couples registered partnerships. That number rose to 12,772 in 2015. One year later, just over 15,700 couples elected this form of commitment, an increase of almost one-quarter from the year before. It’s not just the sheer number of these arrangements that continues to climb. Ever higher percentages of couples making legally recognized commitments to each other are picking registered partnerships over marriage. These partnerships constituted 9 percent of officially recognized commitments in 2006. In 2010, that share grew to just over 11 percent. By 2016, that percentage had increased to 19 percent.

In contrast to the steadily increasing popularity of registered partnerships, fewer couples in the Netherlands are getting married. This decline is a long-term trend. In 1970, approximately 123,000 couples walked down the aisle. By 2015, that number had fallen to 64,308. Over the last five years, the number of couples tying the knot has remained relatively stable at around 65,000. In 2016, 65,249 pairs wed: a slight increase from the 64,308 marriages celebrated the year before. Enthusiasm for registered partnerships was not spread evenly throughout Dutch society last year. Various demographic groups exhibited marked differences in their affinity for the arrangement.

Same-sex couples made relationships official with registered partnership more often than heterosexual ones. It was the bond of choice for 30 percent of gay and lesbian pairs last year. The corresponding percentage among heterosexual couples topped off at 19 percent. Couples with one partner from a Moroccan or Turkish ethnic background, on the other hand, showed a strong preference for marriage. Fewer than 2 percent of these pairs selected registered partnership. This form of commitment is not universally recognised outside of the Netherlands. Potential limitations on the legal transferability of a registered partnership may partly explain this pattern, suggests CBS. Couples living in large cities chose registered partnership less frequently than those residing in smaller communities. This reflects the geographic distribution of residents with a background from outside of the Netherlands, according to CBS.

The southern part of the Netherlands and areas with high concentrations of conservative Protestants have yet to fully embrace this alternative to marriage. In these regions, fewer than 10 percent of couples opted for registered partnership. The institution was most popular in the north and east of the country.