65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 12

65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 12
Engagement and Marriage in Iceland by BJORN BJORNSSON In current sociological discussion on marriage and the family, Iceland is often referred to as presenting the highest rate of illegitimacy in Western Europe. In fact Iceland has in recent years averaged 25% while other European nations have seldom averaged as high as 10% illigiti- macy. Compared with the Scandinavian countries, which are similar to Iceland in regard to marital legislation and historical background, Iceland stands all by itself. In 1963 the illegitimacy rate in Iceland was 27.3%, in Sweden 12.6%, in Denmark 8.9%, in Finland 4.2%, and in Nor- way 3.9%. Considering these figures by themselves, one would think that the structure of family life in Iceland today was seriously threatened by such social problems as are commonly correlated to the incidence of illegitimacy. It is argued by family sociologists that legitimacy is the keystone of the family system in any society. High rates of illegitimacy are, accordingly, seen to indicate the disintegration of the family with far reaching implications for the health of the social structure as a whole. Even though the contemporary family has been stripped of many of the social functions it used to have in pre-industrial times, most socio- logists will agree that the basic family unit still holds a place of immense importance in the constitution and development of modern society. Bearing these considerations in mind, it stands Dr. Bjorn Bjornsson graduated as a theologist from the University of Iceland in 1963 and from the University of Edinburgh in 1966. His Ph. D. thesis was entitled, The Lutheran Doctrine of Marriage in Modern Icelandic Society. He is cur- rently working with the Child Welfare Depart- ment in Reykjavik. to reason that the question of illegitimacy suggests itself with great urgency as soon as one becomes engaged in a study of marriage and the family in Icelandic society. During the summer of 1965 the present writer undertook a study of this nature in an urban community not far from Reykjavik. The object of this study was to relate the incidence of ille- gitimacy to the existing forms of family organiza- tion. In doing so, it was hoped to learn two things: to what extent illegitimate children are taken care of within a family setting, though within a non- marriage family, and how serious a problem il- legitimacy presents within this particular social context. These two points are of course initima- tely related. The present article does not allow for any de- tailed discussion of the findings of our study, but it can be stated that approximately two thirds of the illegitimate live children were born into a family of some sort. This finding has immediate implications for the seriousness of illegitimacy as a social problem in our community and is also a clear indication of the prevalance of families founded on something else than the institution of marriage. We shall waste no time in explaining that this “something else” was practically always found to be the institution of public engagement. The engagement-family was accordingly identified as one of the basic forms of family organization in the community, the others being the marriage- family and the cohabitation-family. The social importance of the institution of public engagement is strengthened still more as we note that most marriage-families have initi- ally started as engagement-families, a fact which is borne out by the figures indicating illegitimate first births. These figures averaged 70% over a period of fifteen years, as compared to around 10 65



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