Academic journal article Demographic Research

Fertility Reactions to the "Great Recession" in Europe: Recent Evidence from Order-Specific Data

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Fertility Reactions to the "Great Recession" in Europe: Recent Evidence from Order-Specific Data

Article excerpt


This paper provides recent cross-national evidence of the impact of the great recession on fertility in Europe in the context of the recent decade.


Using data from the Human Fertility Database (HFD), from Eurostat, and from the OECD database, we employ fixed-effects modeling to study how changes in unemployment rates have affected birth rates across Europe.


We find that countries that were hit hard by the recession show reduced fertility when compared with a continuation of recent trends, especially at younger ages.


Our results indicate a strong relationship between economic conditions and fertility. However, there is variation by region, age, and parity suggesting the importance of life course and institutional factors.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formula omitted.)

1. Recent fertility development in Europe: Between trend reversal and economic crisis

The relationship between economic conditions and fertility is one of the classic research questions in family demography. Since the work of Malthus, much of the empirical literature on the determinants of fertility dynamics has been motivated by the idea that economic hardship and labor market uncertainties will cause people to postpone or revise their fertility plans (e.g., Adserà 2004; Sobotka, Skirbekk, and Philipov 2011; Hofmann and Hohmeyer 2012; Schmitt 2012). Since the global financial crisis swept across Europe starting in 2007, there has been renewed interest in the question of whether increasing unemployment rates and growing labor market uncertainties will have repercussions for fertility development.

Unlike previous recessions and economic upheavals, the current recession is hitting Europe after a period during which the age at childbearing had continuously increased. Although a flattening out in the age at first childbearing has been reported for some European countries, it has leveled off at a relatively high level. Furthermore, the financial crisis hit Europe at a time when many countries had just started to see modest increases in their period fertility rates (Goldstein, Sobotka, and Jasilioniene 2009). In Greece, for example, an increase in the total fertility rate (TFR) that began at the turn of the century came to a halt in 2009 when the Greek economy started to crumble. From 2010 to 2011, Greece saw a decline in total fertility from 1.5 to 1.4. A similar reversal in positive fertility trends occurred in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Romania and Spain. Most remarkable were the developments in Latvia: When unemployment rates skyrocketed, fertility rates plummeted from 1.6 in 2008 to only 1.3 in 2011. Meanwhile, the neighboring country of Lithuania, where unemployment increased at a similar pace, did not experience any strong reaction in annual birth rates over the same period. In Portugal and Italy, which were also harshly affected by the recession, the TFR has also not yet reacted to the surge in unemployment thus far. The Nordic countries of Europe, which were only mildly affected by the recession, saw an unexpected but very uniform decline in total fertility in 2011 (see Figure A1 in appendix).

This overview suggests that changes in fertility in response to the crisis have not been universal. It shows that fertility rates have declined in response to the crisis in several countries. In other countries, the economic crisis disrupted the positive fertility trend that began around the turn of the century. This positive trend has largely been attributed to a gradual end to fertility postponement, which had suppressed annual fertility rates (Goldstein, Sobotka, and Jasilioniene 2009). Researchers also noted that many European countries had implemented family-friendly policies prior to the onset of the crisis, which may have created an environment that is more conducive to fertility (Thévenon 2011; Fagnani 2012). Ideational changes, particularly a resurgence of more traditional family values among the recent cohorts, have also been cited as potential reasons for the reversal in fertility trends (Goldstein, Kreyenfeld, and Rößger 2012). …

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