Academic journal article Population

Fertility in the Developed English-Speaking Countries outside Europe: Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand

Academic journal article Population

Fertility in the Developed English-Speaking Countries outside Europe: Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand

Article excerpt

In the countries of Europe, fertility has at best stabilized at below-replacement level, and sometimes well below this threshold. This is not the case in the non-European developed English-speaking countries where, despite the absence of any directly targeted family policy, fertility appears to be holding up more strongly than in Europe. What is the actual situation? We examine this question by reviewing not only figures for overall fertility, but also, where data are available, for order-specific fertility(1). We then attempt to explain what might be the origin of the discrepancies observed.

I. Developed English-speaking countries compared with Europe

To compare the fertility of the countries under study with Europe, Figures 1 and 2 present period and cohort fertility indicators for three sets of countries:

- The countries of what was once called Eastern Europe are shown on the left. Their governments often sought to influence fertility levels, including by means of repressive measures (Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia [formerly Czechoslovakia], Romania and GDR).

- In the middle are a selection of Western European and especially Scandinavian countries (Luxembourg, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden).

- The non-European developed English-speaking countries are on the right (Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand), with higher fertility than most European countries. France is shown on the same graph, providing a direct illustration of the gap between countries.

Comparison of the graphs for Western Europe and the non-European developed countries(2) since the 1950s shows that couples behaved very similarly, especially as the baby boom came to an end (Figure 1). However, the boom occurred slightly earlier and was more marked in each of these English-speaking countries than in Europe. The maximum total fertility rate was over 3.5 children per woman in every case. It was even 4.3 in New Zealand, one child more than in the Netherlands, the European country where fertility was highest during the baby boom.

Apart from this similar path, it seems that the fertility of the English-speaking countries of North America and Oceania has always been higher than that of European countries, though the gap has narrowed somewhat in recent decades. However, Canada is noticeable for its relatively low fertility, with a total fertility rate stabilizing in recent years at 1.5 children per woman, very close to the European Union average.

Examination of completed fertility (Figure 2) confirms the impression given by the period indicators. The distinctive feature of these Englishspeaking countries, i.e. markedly higher fertility than Europe, is even clearer here. However, the continual decrease in completed fertility among the postwar cohorts in Canada brings that country down to join the lowest countries in Western Europe. Since the end of the baby boom, Canada has moved apart from the other non-European developed English-speaking countries in this respect.

In general, the trends are very close to those of Western Europe, but the gap is much narrower now than a few decades ago. This may ultimately lead to the disappearance of these countries' current advantage over Scandinavia and France, as is already the case for Australia and more especially Canada.

Historically, higher fertility has been associated with earlier childbearing, so differences in fertility timing might possibly account for this gap. For the latest observation year available for a number of countries, Figure 3 plots total fertility rate (x-axis) against period mean age at childbearing. It shows that the link between these two variables, often visible in the time series of a given country, is totally absent when comparing a set of countries at the same date, due largely to the inherent cultural differences between regions. The former Communist countries have a lower age at childbearing and lower fertility, whereas the reverse is true for Western and Northern Europe. …

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