Is marriage dead in Estonia?

While her Ukrainian friends were posting pictures of rings and white dresses, her Estonian friends were sharing photos of babies with no weddings in sight, so Polina Shevchenko, an Ukrainian expat living in Estonia, thought she’d dig into this data and see what is actually happening with marriage in Estonia.

This is an edited version of the article originally published by Polina Shevchenko in her blog.

When I moved to Estonia in 2016, the first thing I noticed was cold weather. It was late April, no people on the streets, and me wearing my winter jacket instead of an almost summer dress.

The fact that people who have been living together for years and have kids together aren’t getting married as often as used to, didn’t catch my attention right away – but once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It seemed interesting and unusual and so different from how these things are done in my home country, Ukraine.

While my Ukrainian friends on Facebook and Instagram were posting pictures of rings and white dresses, my Estonian friends were sharing photos of babies with no weddings in sight. So I thought I’d dig into this data and see what is actually happening with marriage in Estonia.

Have people in Estonia stopped marrying?

Indeed, Estonians marry less now than they used to 20–30 years go – but not compared with ten years ago. The marriages – both in absolute and relative numbers – started noticeably decline after 1987. In ten years – from 1987 to 1996 – the marriage frequency decreased more than twice.

While the marriage rate kept being low for the last 10+ years and is no way near the numbers it was in the 1980s, the hopes are high. The marriage rate has been steadily growing since it reached its lowest so far in 2010. If this trend continues, I expect to see more white dress pics in the Estonian segment of Instagram.

Let’s postpone it!

So marriages still happen but the ones tying the knot aren’t as young as they used to be 30 years ago.


It’s interesting to see how Estonians interpreted regaining the country’s independence as the time to start focusing on their personal one. The mean age of first marriage started growing at the beginning of the 1990s and since 1992, increased for both men and women (I’ll send this graph to my mom next time she asks me if I plan on tying the knot. It’s not my time yet, mom, it’s not.)

Babies come first?

Remember, I thought Estonians first get babies and marry sometime after that. Is it actually close to truth?

Yes, it is! Of course, the reality is probably much more complex than this chart shows and there might be some underlying reasons. Let’s say, there are many couples who live together for 20 years, have kids together and decide to get married in their 50s, significantly influencing the statistics. But now it’s clear where my impression of “first babies, then weddings” comes from.

The most popular time to get married

I hear the bells ringing along the lines of, “what is the most popular time of the year to get married?”

When you google “the most popular months for marriage”, thousands of articles tell you that it’s usually May to October, and that the winter is a no-no. Well, these articles focus mainly on the US and talk about October weddings as warm-not-too-warm golden heaven on Earth. How little do they know about pouring rain in October in heavenly Estonia.

So, what’s an Estonian take on this? Is it yay or nay to American trends?

Sorry, but October isn’t breaking any records here. The average temperature of +6°C (+42.8°F) helps keep the beer cold but that’s where the list of advantages ends. As expected, summer is the most popular time to get married in Estonia.

In 2017–2018, almost half of all marriages happened in the summer season. Long days, pleasant summer nights, +20°C (68°F) and all that. It seems that Estonians don’t want to risk their marital happiness and hence, plan the marriage mainly for July or August. I wonder, does the birth rate peak in April/May? And can you get a discount if you marry in January – the least popular month for marriage since 1977?

It makes sense that summer weddings are more popular, but have it always been this way? The heat map above says “kind of but not that much”. Let’s look at how this “summer wedding” trend grew in popularity over the years.

So summer weddings have long been more popular, but had a dramatic increase following the Soviet Union’s collapse and Estonia’s restoration of independence. I have no way to explain this dynamic, but I assume it might have been due to the influence of Western cultures. Or maybe it just wasn’t pragmatically always possible to get married in summer during the Soviet times.

A second chance at love

The dream goes as follows: meet your soulmate, marry them, spend your life together, die on the same day. It’s a lovely dream and, I’m sure, it happens to some of us. But most people happen to have it differently.

Out of all people who got married in 2018, every fourth had done it before. But what’s surprising to see is that the difference between 50 years back and nowadays isn’t as big I expected it to be.

All charts are based on data provided by Statistics Estonia and/or Eurostat.

Cover: A married couple sit by pond. The image is illustrative. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

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