Census: Average family size in Estonia increases

Estonian census taker uniform in 2022.
Estonian census taker uniform in 2022. Source: Statistics Estonia

According to the results of the 2021 register-based population and housing census, there are 341,995 families living in Estonia, 49 percent, of which consist of two members. There are fewer families living in Estonia now, than recorded in the previous census, however the average family size has grown. 154,625 families (or 45 percent) of families in Estonia contain children under the age of 18, and 16 percent of the population lives alone.

While the total number of families in Estonia is 341,995, the number of people categorized as living in households, is considerably higher – 561,655.

Liina Osila, manager of the population and housing census project at Statistics Estonia, explained, that in the census, there are two separate terms, according to which the data is categorized – household and family. "'Household' refers to a private household made up of people sharing a dwelling, which could be a flat or a private house. This means that there is one household per occupied dwelling, and that may consist of a single person, a family, or many people and several families. So, for example, inhabitants of a care home or a prison also constitute a household. 'Family', however, is defined as two or more people living together as spouses, partners in a consensual union, or parents with children," Osila explained.

Average family size has increased

On average, families in Estonia consist of 2.94 members. The total number of families is down by 5 percent compared with the 2011 census, but the number of people living in a family has risen (The average in 2011 was 2.74 members). 49 percent of families in Estonia consist of two people, 22 percent have three members, 20 contain four, and the remaining 9 percent consist of five or more people. 

Married couple families account for 55 percent of all families in Estonia, while a further 27 percent are consensual union couples. The total number of single parent families is 61,465, representing 18 percent of the families in the country. Lone mother families amount to 16 percent and lone father families to 2 percent.

A total of 154,625 families in Estonia (45 percent) contain minors (children under the age of 18). 36,939 children, that is 14 percent of all families with children, are single parent families, according to the census data.

Population census: families in Estonia by type (2021) Source: Statistics Estonia

Families with no resident children are most common in Estonia

In the census, families are subdivided by type into four separate categories, married couple families, consensual union couple families, lone father families and lone mother families. Among these, a distinction can be made between families without children, families with at least one resident child under the age of 25, and families where the youngest resident child is 25 or older. 

Based on this breakdown, the most common type of family in Estonia, of which there are 94,554, or 28 percent of all families in Estonia, consists of a married couple and no resident children.

Married couples with at least one resident child under the age of 25 is the second most common form of family, with 83,878 families of this type, a figure which accounts for almost 25 percent of the families living in Estonia. Consensual union couples with at least one child under 25 years of age are the third most numerous, totalling 64,025 and accounting for 19 percent of the total number of families surveyed.

The highest number of people live in two-member households

While, according to the census data, the average household size in Estonia is 2.35 people, the most common type of household (37 percent) consists of just one person. However, the highest proportion of the population in Estonia (23 percent), live in two-member households.

According to the methods applied to the data to categorize households, 40 percent of those in the census contain members who do not form a family. These, for example may be households consisting of siblings (without parents), or grandparents living with their grandchildren.

62 percent of the households recorded in the census are living in cities, with the largest average household sizes in towns. 

76 percent of people belonging to a household make up a family with the other members of their household, while the remaining 24 percent live in other types of households. The majority who fall into the latter category, live alone.

According to Statistics Estonia, household structures can be examined in two ways. Broadly speaking, the data shows that the most common forms of household in Estonia are those containing married or consensual union couples, with or without children (48 percent), followed by persons living alone or with siblings or friends (40 percent), single parent households (10 percent), and finally households containing two or more familes (1 percent).

Taking a more detailed approach, households containing couples can be divided into three categories, according to whether there are children living at home and, if so, whether or not at least one child is under the age of 25.

A total of 561,655 households were counted in the census, of which 154,634, or 27.5 percent contain members, who are under 18 years of age, a figure which has increased slightly in comparison to the previous census. In 2000, one in three households (34 percent) contained minors, whereas in the previous census in 2011, this applied to one in four households (25 percent). In the most recent census, the percentage of households containing minors is highest in Tartu County (32 percent) and lowest in Hiiu County (19 percent).

the highest proportion of households with children is in Rae Municipality, where 56 percent of households contain minors.

The biggest  households are also located in Tartu County (2.50 members) and Harju county (2.43), and the smallest in Hiiu (2.16) and Ida-Viru (2.08) counties. The proportion of one-person households is highest in Ida-Viru county (43%). Tartu county also has the largest percentage of households with five or more members (11%).

Nine out of ten households are mono-ethnic

The 2021 census results also reveal, that the vast majority of households in Estonia (88 percent) are mono-ethnic, that is, they contain members from a single ethnic group, according to the categories outlined in the census questionnaire. 63 percent of households surveyed consist of only ethnic Estonians, 21 percent of ethnic Russians, with a further 4 percent of mono-ethnic households containing members of other nationalities. The remaining 12 percent are multi-ethnic households and can be divided between Estonian-Russian households (5 percent), Estonians living with people of other ethnic nationalities (3 percent), Russians living with people of other ethnic nationalities (3 percent), and households containing people of different nationalities who are neither Estonian nor Russian (1 percent). Multi-ethnic households account for a slightly larger share in cities than in small towns and rural areas.

Retirement-age women in particular tend to live alone

16 percent of people in Estonia live alone, a figure which is down 3 percent from the 2011 census. This statistic is heavily influenced by the sex and age of respondents to the census, with as many as 50 percent of women of retirement age (currently 63 years, 9 months and above) falling into this bracket.

The proportion of people living on their own is highest in Ida-Viru County (21 percent) and lowest in Tartu County (13 percent). In Sillamäe, 23 percent of the population live alone, the highest proportion in any town or city throughout the country, with the lowest figure in Rae Municipality (Harju County), where just 6 percent of residents live on their own.

More information on the data collected refarding households and families during the 2021 census can be found here.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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