* New EU member Estonia leads the enlarged bloc for the number of children born outside of marriage, with around 60 percent of the Baltic state's children born to unmarried parents, officials said Wednesday.
"With the 60-percent rate of children born outside marriage, Estonia is at the top of such statistics in Europe," Estonian Population Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo told AFP.
In the enlarged EU, the average percentage of children born out of wedlock in 2004 was 31.6 percent, according to EU statistics office, Eurostat.
The same year, it was 60 percent in Estonia, a rate beaten in Europe only by non-EU member Iceland, where 63.7 percent of children were born to unwed parents, according to Eurostat.
"On the other hand, the proportion of single mothers has declined, indicating that there are more unregistered partnerships, for which we don't keep statistics," Rummo said.
"Numbers of formal marriages are on the decline in the Western world in general as part of continuing emancipation. In Estonia, we believe the main reason why so .......
...... many children are born out of wedlock is that young parents lack the money to make their own home, so they postpone formal marriage," he said.
"People also think that the formalisation of a partnership is not important at all, and society has tolerated this approach.
"But the record-high number of children born outside marriage does not mean these children lack caring parents," he stressed.
The proportion of young mothers in Estonia who work while raising their children has increased, as has the average age of first-time mothers.
As of the end of November this year, 330 more children had been born in Estonia compared with the first 11 months of 2004.
But despite an increase of around eight percent in the birth rate over the past two years, population growth continues to be negative in Estonia, with 3,000 more deaths than births this year in the Baltic state, where the population is a mere 1.3 million.