Households and families

Distribution of the population into households and families

In the population census, two concepts of belonging are used – household and family. Households are address-based, and with the exception of the 1% of people living in care homes or prisons, all people belong to a private household (hereafter referred to as ’household’). A person living alone also forms a separate household. Households are inhabited by people belonging to the family nucleus (hereafter ’family’) and/or persons who are not members of the family nucleus. A family is made up of two or more people living together as spouses, (consensual union) partners, or as parents and children. Persons who live alone do not constitute a family.

76% of people in Estonia belong to a family and 24% do not. The majority of those who are not part of a family live alone, but there are also households where a non-family member (e.g. father or mother of one of the spouses) lives alongside the family, and households that do not contain a family (e.g. friends sharing a dwelling). By household status, the breakdown of people in Estonia is as follows: 42% are partners (incl. married and in consensual union); 29% are children; 16% are persons living alone; 5% are lone parents; 5% are people who live in a household but do not belong to a family; and 3% of people reside in households that consist of, for example, friends, or a grandparent and grandchild (i.e. multiperson non-family households).

Men are more likely to live alone at younger ages, women at older ages

Men are slightly more likely to be part of a family than women (78% and 73%, respectively). 44% of men and 40% of women have the status of a partner in the household, while 32% of males and 25% of females are in the role of a child. There are two reasons for the 7% higher proportion of male children. Firstly, demographics: men have a shorter life expectancy, and a larger number of males are born, so the proportion of boys and men in the younger age groups is simply higher, and this translates into household and family statistics. Secondly, there is the social aspect: women become independent earlier, i.e. they leave home earlier and become members of another household or family, and therefore  their role changes. 13% of men and 18% of women live alone and 1% of men and 8% of women are lone parents. The higher proportion of women living alone is due to their longevity – men simply tend to die earlier. There are nearly 2.5 times as many women aged 75 and over as men of the same age, and the number of 75+ women who live alone is 5.7 times higher than that of men of the same age living alone.


A household is defined as a private household made up of people living together in the same dwelling (flat or private house). This means that there can be only one household per occupied dwelling. In previous censuses, households have been formed by people sharing housekeeping expenses (self-reported), which means that in the past, several households may have lived in the same dwelling (e.g. a mother and father with children and a grandmother). Due to this change, the number of households is estimated to be 7% lower than in the census of 2011.

The highest number of people live in twos

At the moment of census, on 31 December 2021, there were 561,655 households living in Estonia, and the average household size was 2.35 persons. In Estonia, the majority of households (37%) have only one member, but the largest percentage of the population, 23%, live in two-person households. The number of households with children under the age of 18 is 154,634, which is 27.5% of all households. In 2000, one in three households – 34% – were raising minor children, while in the previous census in 2011, one in four (25%) did. The highest proportion of households with minors is in Tartu county (31.7%) and the lowest in Hiiu county (19.4%).

The largest households are found in Tartu county (2.50 members) and Harju county (2.43), the smallest in Hiiu (2.16) and Ida-Viru (2.08) counties. The clustering of above-average households in Harju and Tartu counties, along with the lowest average age of the population in these counties, shows where the youngest segment of the population is concentrated, and which counties young families want to associate themselves with. The proportion of one-person households is highest in Ida-Viru county (43.4%), while the lowest shares are found in Harju (33.9%) and Tartu (33.6%) counties. Tartu county also has the largest percentage of households with five or more members (11.2%).

Nearly nine out of ten households are mono-ethnic

Compared with 2011, the share of mono-ethnic households has fallen by 4 percentage points, from 92% to 88%, and the proportion of multi-ethnic households has increased by the same amount. This means that households have diversified to some extent. 63% of households consist of Estonians, 21% of Russians, and 4% are mono-ethnic households of other nationalities. The remaining 12% are multi-ethnic households, divided into Estonian-Russian households (5%), households of Estonians and persons of other ethnic nationalities (3%), households of Russians and persons of other ethnic nationalities (3%), and households with people of different ethnic nationalities who are neither Estonian nor Russian (1%).

Multi-ethnic households account for a slightly larger share in cities than in small towns and rural areas. Households of Estonians are on average bigger (2.35 members) than those of Russians (1.98 members) but considerably smaller than Estonian-Russian mixed households, which have, on average, 3.49 members. It is worth noting that a mixed household implies at least two persons, i.e. the average household size is already larger due to the non-existence of one-person households. Households with neither Estonians nor Russians are the smallest (1.47 members).

The ethnic composition of households also reflects the overall ethnic distribution in Estonia. Ida-Viru county is the only county where Russian households outnumber those of Estonians. Harju county, on the other hand, stands out for having the highest proportion of households where at least one member is neither Estonian nor Russian. The share of households containing other ethnic nationalities is high in Ida-Viru and Valga counties as well. Hiiu and Saare counties have the highest proportions of households consisting only of Estonians. The percentage of Estonian-Russian mixed households is highest in Ida-Viru county, although Harju county comes a very close second.

Table 1. Ethnic composition of households by county




Estonian-Russian mixed households













































































People living together, with or without children, are the most numerous in Estonia

Household structures can be examined in two ways: in a broad and a more detailed breakdown. In general, households of married or consensual union couples with or without children are the most common (48%), followed by non-family households (40%) that are made up mainly (in 9 out of 10 cases) of persons living alone and people living with friends, for instance. Lone parent households account for 10% and two-or-more-family households for 1%.

In the more detailed view, couple households are 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 child as a member of the household implies a relationship between household members, i.e. a 40-year-old is also considered a child if he/she lives with his/her biological parents and there are no other persons in the household.

Lone parent households are broken down by the child’s age limit of 25 years as well. A distinction is also made between lone mothers and lone fathers, the latter being about seven times fewer than lone mothers. Non-family households are divided into one- and multiperson households. In a more detailed breakdown, one-person households are the most numerous in Estonia, followed by couple households with at least one child under the age of 25.

Town settlement regions (e.g. Rae or Saku rural municipality) differ significantly from other areas in terms of their household structure. The share of couple households, which is 10% higher than in other regions, clearly indicates the suburbanisation of (young) families, as a large proportion of town settlement regions are located in rural municipalities around Tallinn, Tartu, and Pärnu cities. The substantial difference in the percentages comes at the expense of non-family households. Compared with 2011, this figure has increased by 5%.  

Table 2. Share of household structures in various settlement regions
Settlement region

Type of household

Non-family households

Couple households

Lone parent households

Two-or-more-family households






















For population census purposes, a family is defined as a family nucleus, i.e. a group of two or more persons who are connected as spouses, (consensual union) partners, or as a parent and a child. If three or more generations share the same household, the members of the two youngest generations are counted as members of the family. Same-sex couples, if married, are recorded as married couple families. Consensual union couples include same-sex couples with children where both partners have custody of the child(ren).

The average family in Estonia is larger than before

At the time of the 2021 census, there were 341,995 families and 1,004,044 family members living in Estonia, which means that 75.4% of people live in a family. A total of 154,625 families are raising at least one minor child, accounting for 45.2% of all families. In comparison with 2011, the number of families has decreased, including the number of married couple families and lone parent families, but the number of consensual union couple families has gone up. The size of the average family has increased as well, from 2.74 to 2.94 members.

The largest families reside live in Tartu county (3.06 members) and the smallest in Ida-Viru county (2.74 members). These same counties also have the highest and lowest shares of the population living in families – 77.8% in Tartu and 71.7% in Ida-Viru county. The lowest percentage of families with minor children is found in Hiiu county (35.1%) and the highest in Tartu county (49.5%). Two-member families are the most prevalent in Estonia, and the largest number of people live in these. 

Marriage is the most common form of cohabitation in families

Families are divided into four types: married couple families (55%), consensual union couple families (27%), lone mother families (16%), and lone father families (2%).

Along with the subtypes, which distinguish families not only by structure but also by the presence of children, the most common type of family is a married couple family with no (resident) children. There are 94,554 such families in Estonia, or 28% of all families. The majority of these consist of older married couples whose children have already left home. In terms of proportion, the next most common type is a married couple family with at least one resident child under the age of 25. There are 83,878 families of this type, or 25% of all families. The third most numerous are consensual union couple families with at least one child under the age of 25, totalling 64,025 and representing 19% of all families.

There are 61,465 of lone parent families in total, accounting for 18%. Of these, lone father families amount to 2% and lone mother families to 16%. Lone parent families with a child aged under 25 account for 12%, while in the remaining 6% of lone parent families, the youngest resident child is aged 25 or older. The latter is by no means only a person who has remained living with a parent for a long time – it also includes adults who used to live alone and who have now taken in a parent.

Half of married couples, or 50.6%, have no children or no resident children. 44.9% have at least one child under the age of 25 living at home, and the youngest resident child is over 25 years of age in 4.5% of married couple families. For consensual union couples, these figures are 30.0%, 68.3%, and 1.7%, respectively. Although the percentages give the impression that married couples have fewer children, it should be borne in mind that marriage rates are higher among the older generation whose children have already left home. This is confirmed by the average family size by family type, which is 2.95 people for married couples and 3.28 for consensual union couples. Also, the average age of married couples is higher than that of consensual union couples.

Half of families with underage children are raising one minor

A little less than one in two families (45.2%) have underage children, who are examined separately in the following section. Half (50.8%) of these families are raising one minor. There are two children in 35.7% of families and three or more minors in 13.5% of families. While on average, the biggest families are found in town settlement regions, families with minor children are largest in rural areas. The graph below reveals that when families with underage children are broken down by settlement region, all regions contain the highest proportion of families raising one minor child, but the trend is more pronounced in cities, and as you move from cities through small town towards the countryside, the percentage of large families in the family statistics also goes up.

Lone mothers outnumber lone fathers seven to one

There are 53,809 lone mother families and 7,656 lone father families in Estonia, but not all of these families necessarily have a lone mother or father in the role of carer. 35% of lone mothers and 43% of lone fathers have a child over the age of 25, so these figures do not reflect what the majority of us would understand by lone parenthood. Families that are recorded as lone parent families, but where the youngest member is over 25 years old, have a diverse sex and age distribution. It is not clear whether this is due to a financial decision, a living arrangement arising from care needs or some other reason.

A third, or 2,560 lone fathers, and just under half, or 25,372 lone mothers are raising one or several minor children. The highest proportion of lone fathers with a minor child is observed in Jõgeva county (2.6%) and the lowest in Hiiu county (1.2%). The corresponding counties for lone mothers are Ida-Viru (21.6%) and Tartu (14.5%). In total, this means that out of Estonia’s more than 150,000 families with underage children, nearly 28,000 or 18.1% are lone parent families.

Retirement-age women in particular tend to live alone

15.6% of people in Estonia live alone, down by 3 percentage points compared with the census of 2011. The share of people living alone is heavily dependent on sex and age, reaching as high as 50% for women of retirement age. The percentage of persons living on their own is highest in Ida-Viru county (20.6%) and lowest in Tartu county (13.3%). A more comprehensive analysis on people living alone will be published shortly.

Interesting titbits about households and families in Estonia

  • Rae municipality has the largest households (3.07 members)
  • The smallest households are found in Sillamäe city (1.96 members).
  • Small households means that Sillamäe city is the 14th largest municipality in Estonia in terms of the number of households, but only 23rd in terms of population.
  • The situation is reversed in Rae rural municipality, which ranks 10th in terms of the number of households and 7th in population size.
  • Rae rural municipality has the highest percentage of households with minor children (56%).
  • The proportion of households with minor children is the lowest in Vormsi rural municipality (13%).
  • The highest percentage of people living alone is found in Sillamäe city (23%) and the lowest in Rae rural municipality (6%).