Love in spite of a crisis

Many aspects of life for young Greeks changed after the economic crisis hit. Unemployment and financial insecurity is one of many factors that slows life down for the Greek youth. A lot of things in their lives are postponed, staying with your parents until you are half way in to your thirties is not unusual. The lack of independence has caused young Greeks to start a family later in life and prospects of marriage and having children has for many been pushed way ahead into the future.

25 year old teacher, Manolis Hatzigeorgiou, is a rare case among the Greek youth. He belongs to a very small proportion of young Greeks from 25 to 30 who has a job. Unemployment in this age group is at the highest in the European Union at about 50%.

He decided to take a step towards family life last year when he got engaged to his girlfriend of five years. They were supposed to get married six months ago but the marriage got postponed because of family issues. They are now planning to get married this coming September.

‘’My idea of marriage was created when I was a child. I liked the fact that my parents were together. We had good times. We were all together and this feeling was created due to them. I’d like to imitate such a tradition in my own life. Also I would say that I met a person who helped me make this decision. I met a girl, and as long as it went well, we decided to go ahead. I feel really lucky that I have a job so that is another reason why I feel more safe to make such a leap in my life‘’ Hatzigeorgiou explains.

For many other young Greeks, the situation is different. Dr. Dimitri Sotiropoulos is an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Athens. He believes that starting a family is only possible for the more fortunate of the Greek youth.

‘’Marriage is only an option if the future husband and wife already have a job, and it is very important that both of them do. And that is a rare case. It also only concerns public sector workers or people involved in liberal professions like doctors or lawyers to be able to pull together the resources.’’ he argues.

The major costs for young couples who wants to start a family has to do with the inability to accumulate enough capital to buy their own house, and this is a radical change compared to the past. House ownership in Greece is different from other European countries because house owners make up 70% off all house residents whereas in other places in Europe it is more common for people to rent their homes. He believes that this is going to change as a consequence of the crisis.

‘’That is probably not possible to hold any more as a prospect for young couples. Because they will never have enough capital from their jobs as most young Greeks on the labor market are underpaid’’ he explains.

Family traditions are very important in Greece and that was something Hatzigeorgiou wanted to take into consideration.

‘’I cared for my parents opinion, I wanted everyone to be happy with this decision. I want my marriage to be a moment when I am totally happy. My parents wouldn’t agree with the marriage if I would have been unemployed. But I have a salary, even if it is not a lot of money, they do not push me against marriage. Their opinion is something I should take into account.’’

Greece is a country of strong family traditions and taking care of older family members such as parents and grandparents is often left to the young in the family. It is not rare to find young couples living with their older family members and this often takes a lot of resources for the young.

‘’This has been a long tradition, however over the last few years because of the rise in unemployment, there are fewer resources that can be pulled together. So a young couple may be in the rather unfortunate position of having to support both themselves and at least one or two older family members. ‘’ says Dr. Sotiropoulos.

The young taking care of the old is a long term consequence of the young choosing to have children later in life. The Greek population is aging and over the last four years the number of deaths has exceeded the number of births.

Greece now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the EU as less couples are able to bear the financial costs of having a child with costs such as €1,500 for vaccination of one child. The number of children born decreased with almost 20,000 from 2010 to 2013. And four out of ten Greek women will have less children than they prefer or no children at all as a consequence of the financial situation.

This follows the trend of other European countries such as Italy, Spain, Hungary and Germany where the total fertility rate does not allow for reproduction of the population.

‘’The fact that couples will have children at a much later age means that they will have only one child or no child.’’ Says Dr. Sotiropoulos.

Greek women are likely to postpone having children as a result of the crisis and the number of children they will have will decrease
Greek women are likely to postpone having children as a result of the crisis and the number of children they will have will decrease

The financial problems also makes bearing a child a health risk that comes with many costs that are difficult for a young couple to cover. Hatzigeorgiou does however see himself and his coming wife having children in the not too distant future.

‘’I would like to have children of course. Because as a child I had good memories, and my fiancée did too. I come from a family with four children. I liked the interaction with my brothers and sisters, the fights, the laughing and how we help each other. I would like to have kids maybe one or two years after getting married. I want to have some time with my wife to just live life, after that would be a good time to have a child. If it comes earlier I would be happy the same, I like making plans, but plans are meant to be broken. If something is to happen we have to break the plan and accept it.’’

Hatzigeorgiou is aware of the major costs that a child can bring to him and his future wife.

‘’Raising a child has some expenses, it’s not enough just to be married. I think you should not make your kids feel uncomfortable if you don’t have money and make them feel like a burden.’’

He does however agree that there are still financial risks he has to consider.

‘’I would like to not think about the financial risks of getting married at the moment. A married couple should try to have enough money. Mostly because it is a safety, it is not the main purpose of marriage but something you should be thinking about. As a man I would like to provide my wife the best I can. So taken into account that there are financial risks to getting married I would like to do whatever I can to limit them.’’