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Couples in Germany: Birds of a feather flock together

Destatis, 5 October 2010

Who marries whom? Who lives with whom? An old proverb says on this topic: "Birds of a feather flock together". The results of the microcensus show that this proverb is really true – at least when we examine the educational attainment, the age difference between the two partners or the citizenship.

More than half of the couples have the same educational attainment

Larger view of the chart Couples, 2009, by partners´s educational attainmentEnlarge picture

Most people choose a partner with the same educational level. In more than half (61%) of the 21 million couples in Germany in 2009, the two partners had the same or a similar educational qualification. Where the educational level differs, it is more often the man who has a higher qualification. That applied to as many as almost one third (30%) of the couples. The opposite situation – the woman having a higher educational level – occurred only in about every tenth couple (9%).

Same age is preferred, too

Relationships between older men or women and much younger partners are often covered by the press. In statistical terms, however, such large differences in age are an exception rather than the general rule. In just 6% of all couples, the age difference was more than ten years. Nearly half (47%) had just a slight age difference of between one and three years. As many as every tenth couple had exactly the same age.

Irrespective of the extent of the age difference, however, the traditional age distribution — the man being older than the woman — is the most frequent structure. That was the constellation in about three quarters (73%), while it was the other way round in just 17% of the couples.

When separately examining married and non-married couples with regard to educational level and age in the couple constellation, the structure is different again.

Marriage: traditional couple constellations

Larger view of the chart Married couples an consensual unions, 2009, by educational attainment of the partnersEnlarge picture

Altogether there were some 18 million married couples and a good 2.6 million consensual unions in Germany in 2009. In about every third (31%) married couple, the husband had a higher educational level than his wife. That educational constellation, which reflects the traditional role model, is much less frequent (22%) among couples living together in a household without being married.

Among married couples, the wife had less often a higher educational attainment (9%). That constellation was more frequent between unmarried partners: In every seventh couple (14%) the woman’s qualification was higher than the man’s.

In non-marriage relationships, the woman is more often older

Larger view of the chart Couples, 2009, by partners´s educational attainmentEnlarge picture

In terms of age distribution, too, consensual unions differ from the usual stereotypes: Although, in 2009, there was a traditional age distribution also in the majority of unmarried couples (68%), the woman was older than her partner in nearly every fourth relationship (23%). In the remaining couples (9%), the two partners had the same age.

Among married couples, the traditional distribution of the age constellation was more frequent: In three out of four married couples (74%), the husband was older than his wife. In every tenth marriage, the two partners had the same age. In 16% of the marriages, the wife was older.

Same-sex partnerships

Some couples interpret the proverb “birds of a feather flock together” in a very narrow sense: There were more than 63,000 same-sex partnerships in Germany in 2009, that is some 37,000 gay and almost 27,000 lesbian couples. When put in relation to all couples in Germany, however, the share of those living together in a household is small (0.3%).

It is however not possible to draw conclusions from the share of same-sex partnerships and to estimate on that basis the share of homosexuals in the total population.

Same-citizenship partnerships: Roots in the same country of origin connect people

Studies in Holland, holidays in the tropics or a place of residence in old age on the Mediterranean — in the context of growing globalisation and mobility in the people’s private and business spheres, one might assume that couple relationships are getting more international, too. Although the share of couples with different citizenships is increasing, however, it is still much more frequent that people choose a partner with the same passport.

Among the couples in Germany, German-German relationships were the clear majority (87%) in 2009, although they were by about three percentage points down from 1996. German-foreign couples accounted for 7% (1996: 4%) and foreign couples for 6% (1996: 6%). In most foreign couples, too, the two partners have the same citizenship (92%).

It’s the mix that matters: Couples with different citizenships

Even though it is more often the common things that are preferred when choosing a partner, it sometimes is really the differences that attract each other: Where German men chose a foreign partner, the woman most often came from Poland (11%), Turkey (10%) or the Russian Federation (8%).

German women lived mainly with Turks (17%), Italians (13%) and Austrians (6%).


Julia Weinmann and Stefan Rübenach – Federal Statistical Office

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