Academic journal article Demographic Research

Summary and General Conclusions: Childbearing Trends and Policies in Europe

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Summary and General Conclusions: Childbearing Trends and Policies in Europe

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

European fertility early in the 21st century was at its lowest level since the Second World War. This study explores contemporary childbearing trends and policies in Europe, and gives detailed attention to the past two or three decades. We felt motivated to undertake this project because in many European countries, as well as for the European Union as a whole, the overall fertility level and its consequences are of grave concern and draw attention on the political stage. Our account focuses somewhat more on the previously state socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where available knowledge about the impact on childbearing of the momentous political and economic transition that started in 1989 remains relatively scarce.

As family formation and childbearing behaviour are inherent components of societal life, they were influenced and modified by the various political, economic, and social changes that took place in Europe during the past 60 years. There were also profound changes in norms, values, beliefs, and attitudes regarding family and childbearing, and these exerted additional effects on fertility and family trends. To identify such effects, this study pays much attention to the influence of social and family policies on fertility, to the influence of political and economic changes on fertility and family trends, and to the diverse ways changes in values, norms, and attitudes relate to the transformation in family-related behaviour in Europe. In the present chapter, we outline main issues discussed in the subsequent overview chapters, and summarise the main findings of the entire study.

2. Contemporary fertility levels and trends

During most of the second half of the 20th century, political and economic institutions in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries differed substantially from those in Northern, Western, and Southern Europe. This created very different environments for family formation and childbearing, which was mirrored in contrasting fertility levels and trends. In the CEE countries, fertility declined in the 1950s and 1960s, while it was relatively high in the rest of Europe, where many countries experienced a baby boom. Conversely, fertility declined rapidly in Northern, Western, and Southern Europe, and was low during the 1970s and 1980s, whereas the CEE countries maintained higher fertility around the replacement level.

The collapse of the authoritarian regimes throughout CEE around 1990 went handin- hand with substantial changes in family and reproductive behaviour, expressed in an abrupt decline of fertility to very low levels. In the meantime, a differentiation in childbearing behaviour had taken place in the other parts of Europe. In the countries of Northern and Western Europe, with about one-quarter of Europe's population, fertility stabilised at levels moderately below replacement with total fertility rates (TFRs) between 1.7 and 2.0 births per woman. Fertility continued to decline to very low levels in Southern Europe and in the predominantly German-speaking countries. In the first decade of the 21st century, three-quarters of Europe's population live in countries with TFRs between 1.3 and 1.6 births per woman, namely in the latter two regions and in the CEE countries.

An early childbearing pattern, typical of the baby boom period of the 1950s and 1960s, and retained in Central and Eastern Europe until the mid-1990s, has been replaced by a late pattern characterised by a pronounced delay of entry into parenthood. This secular trend towards later childbearing has contributed greatly to the decline and to the fluctuations in period TFRs. A share of the delayed births was eventually recuperated, especially among childless women, but the extent of recuperation differs by country and region. In Western and Northern Europe, most of the delayed births were recuperated by the time women reached their late twenties and thirties. …

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