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Reconnecting the Threads
An Investigation on how marriage and premarital courses are changing in Milan, Italy

The number of marriages is decreasing in Italy, by about 15 percent each year, and the age at which people get married is going up (over 30). First marriages and those between spouses who both have Italian citizenship are becoming fewer. There is, in fact, an increase of marriages where one spouse is foreign. This data provided by the Research Institute of National Statistics (Istat) is corroborated by the investigations that the Diocesan family agents have conducted in the local churches, in a pastoral perspective.
We note here the research on how the engaged couples and pre-marriage courses are changing. This study, directed by Alfonso Colzani and Francesca Dossi, Directors the family ministry in the Archdiocese of Milan, was published in L‘Osservatore Romano on July 2nd.
In the capital of Lombardy, the average age of the “couples who pronounce the fateful ‘yes’” is higher by about three years (more than 36 for men, over 34 for women). Like in the rest of Italy, the number of religious marriages has decreased, by about 24%, to the point that, in 2011, the majority of weddings were civil marriages. In the diocese of Milan, in the decade 2001-2011, marriages in the Church have reduced to one fourth, from more than 23 thousand to less than 7 thousand.
If, on the one hand, the process of secularization has led to a reduction of religious marriages and of marriages in general, on the other hand, the preparatory courses indicate—say the agents—a qualitative improvement. “Few, but good.” “We are well aware that those who ask for a Christian marriage today are more motivated, and do so because they have sensed in this choice an advantage for themselves and for their family; they are conscious that the religious sphere has a particular value that assures depth and roots for the future. Then, there is the most surprising phenomenon of recent years, namely, the explosion of the practice of premarital cohabitation, widespread even among those seeking Christian marriage.” This reveals “a radical change of mentality, given that even a large number of believers no longer approaches marriage in the form of the fides, but as a test.” They want to try, before making a decision. “A trial period proves to be reassuring.”
According to Istat, in large urban areas about 95 per cent of the couples live together before getting married, and in small towns these couples represent between 60 and 75 percent. The higher number is due to the transformation of the mentality, marked by precariousness and uncertainty. Moreover, it is noted that “the decision to live together is also conditioned by job insecurity, which discourages people from taking on binding responsibilities.” Work, its absence or precariousness, constitutes the main reason for over 30 percent of the cases.
Often, the decision to marry follows the birth of a child: “becoming parents is an important step that seems to mark a change in the perception of the couple’s relationship, which, after the birth of a child is felt to be more important and therefore requires a further step.”

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