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Greece in Love and Crisis

News & Features | February 16, 2015

Greece just elected a new prime minister whose election slogan translates to “hope is on the way.” It seems the Greeks could use some hope right now. The country has been tied up in an economic crisis for six years, suffered harsh austerity measures, and retains outstanding loans to much of the Eurozone. As of October, the unemployment rate was 25.8 percent, with 50.6 percent of Greek youth under 25 unemployed. The average wage of those who are employed—often working multiple jobs—is €600 a month, compared to the overall European average of €1,916 (as of 2013).

According to news outlets in Greece and abroad, the economic crisis has entirely disrupted patterns of love, dating, and marriage. People are not dating because of economic worries, more thirty-something Grecians are living with their parents until marriage to conserve money, and children are being viewed as a financial burden. “Quite a few friends of mine are back there, and it’s so sad that adults have been forced to live like teenagers—living with their parents—because of the crisis,” commented journalist Theopi Skarlatos in an interview with Vice. “They might want to be intimate with their partners, but they have to wait until their parents go to the supermarket, or something.”

This past December, Skarlatos and fellow journalist Kostas Kallergis released a documentary titled Love In The Time Of Crisis. The documentary shows couples, young and old, pornographers, sex workers, and people from all over Greece discussing what love is and how love exists even in time of crisis. “People were forced into these situations, and I wanted the documentary to be a platform for people to tell their stories,” Skarlatos remarked to Vice. “I want it to develop—to build a community around it. I really hope people will share their stories of how the crisis has affected things for them.”

In Love In The Time Of Crisis, a young couple struggles to decide if they can afford a child, and a doctor discusses why abortion rates were up. As of 2011, the fertility rate (births per woman aged 15-44) was 1.39 — down from 1.51 in 2010. By comparison, according to the Center for Disease Control, the US fertility rate in 2011 was 1.90. In 2013, the Greek health minister firmly blamed the economy for the drop in births: “The problem of low fertility among the Greek population has grown continuously over the past two decades and worsened significantly, recently, as a result of the profound economic crisis the country is facing.” This would seem to indicate a dire population crisis and is being read as the primary indicator of changing patterns of romance and love in response to economic conditions.

Reporters from Greece and abroad also warn about a dropping marriage rate, linking this concern with the dropping birth rate. In an interview with the Tufts Observer, Dr. Aimee Placas, an anthropologist currently living and working in Athens, explained this connection between the marriage rate and fertility rate: “Many Greeks decide to get married not when they’ve decided to make a commitment but when they decide that they’re ready to have kids. Either you decide to have kids, or [a situation arises in which you realize] “oh we’re pregnant, are we going to get married or going to break up and have an abortion?” That’s a very common model. Not across the board, but in certain social strata.” Therefore, the marriage rate in fact has very little to do with the status of relationships, commitment, or dating in Greece, but merely with decisions regarding children. Additionally, Greece does not currently have legalized same sex marriage, rendering the growing queer community in Athens and their relationships hidden in data regarding marriages.

Many Greeks in their 20s agree that more people are living with their parents until marriage. Panos Varypatis, a 24 year-old Athenian local commented that, “living with parents until marriage is almost customary for Greeks and it’s a personal decision. The age of couples getting married has just shifted ahead. Before it was normal to get married at 24, now [the norm is] 30+.” The ages of those getting married has risen slightly—the mean age at first marriage for Greek females as of 2011 was 29.4, up from 27.2 in 2001, and for men the mean age at first marriage was 32.7, up from 31.1 in 2000. Greeks are still getting married, just later in life. According to Eurostat, the marriage rate in Greece has stayed fairly constant—dropping only slightly at the peak of the crisis in 2008 and again in 2012.

This shift in marriage age could also explain the drop in fertility rate. Greek women are still having children, but it seems that they are deciding to do so at an older age. The fertility rate in Greece dropped in the early 2000’s and then rose again, indicating that there was simply a period of catch-up in number of births. Eurostat commented, “When women give birth later in life, the total fertility rate tends to decrease at first, before a subsequent recovery.” The decision for Greeks to postpone marriage and children is likely influenced by the weaker economy. However, looking diachronically at the facts, there is no indication that there is in fact any dearth of births or marriages in Greece. And even if there were, this does not seem to have any correlation with the status of love or dating overall.

Many Greeks corroborate this, arguing that though young adults are now more likely to live with their parents and wait longer for marriage, this does not mean that love or dating are eradicated. Love In The Time Of Crisis showed a young woman who claimed that there has simply been a shift in locale of intimacy—people becoming intimate with partners in cars or hotels that offer hourly rates because they are living with their parents but still looking for love. There are hotels all around Athens that serve this purpose. Hotel Priamos in Pagrati Athens is one such place—they advertise a host of rooms with hourly rates, each with their own theme. Hotel Priamos declined interview with the Tufts Observer, but it seems to be quite popular, with couples of all ages and orientations frequently exiting and entering.

Walking around Athens, one sees couples everywhere, holding hands, kissing up against the gates of the Acropolis, or going to eat at tavernas. There is a lively bar scene with bars for every sexual identity, each full of young people on dates or looking for one. “If you go to the bars or the islands you will see that there is no crisis in Greece. Everyone is out having fun,” stated 21 year-old Vagelis Papadopoulos, who currently lives in Athens, in an interview with the Tufts Observer. “If there were no magazines or television there would be no talk of crisis in Greece.”

The bar, clubs, and cafes of Athens confirm that at least the search for love or relationships is constant—couples dancing, flirting, buying each other drinks and exchanging looks. Partygoers at a lesbian club in Gazi, Athens, emphatically asserted the importance of meeting new people, asserting that in fact, Athens is the perfect place to do just that. Two young Greek men I interviewed explained patiently that they were ready for long-term commitments, but they simply had to find Greek women who were ready to settle down. The merits of buying flowers were heavily discussed; the economy does not frequently come up in these contexts. Some Greeks even argue that nothing has actually changed. “Everyone is worried about his future but it’s not love or relationship related,” explained Panos Varypatis, “Love is as it has always been.”

Photo by Moira Lavelle.