From Statistics Explained
- Data from October 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article looks at the development of a range of indicators concerning the number of births and fertility across the European Union (EU). Fertility steadily declined from the mid-1960s through to the turn of the century in those countries which form the EU. However, in recent years the total fertility rate in the EU-27 has shown some signs of rising again.
Main statistical findings
In 2011, 5.2 million children were born in the EU-27, which equated to a crude birth rate (the number of live births per 1 000 inhabitants) of 10.4.
From the 1960s up to the beginning of the 21st century, the number of live births in the EU-27 declined sharply from 7.5 million to a low of 5.0 million in 2002 (see Figure 1). This was followed by a modest rebound in the number of live births, with 5.4 million children born in the EU-27 in 2008, in turn followed by further annual reductions during the period 2009–11.
In recent decades Europeans have generally been having fewer children, and this pattern partly explains the slowdown in the EU-27's population growth (see population and population change statistics). A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant if there were no inward or outward migration.
The total fertility rate (the number of live births per woman) in the EU-27 declined to a level well below this replacement level in recent decades. Available information suggests that the total fertility rate was 1.46 live births per woman in the EU-27 in 2002. A slight recovery was subsequently observed in most EU Member States, such that the EU-27 average had increased to 1.59 live births per woman by 2009.
The slight increase in the total fertility rate observed in recent years may, in part, be attributed to a catching-up process following a general pattern of postponing the decision to have children. When women give birth later in life, the total fertility rate tends to decrease at first, before a subsequent recovery.
Total fertility rates across EU Member States tended to converge during the last few decades. In 1980, the gap between the highest rate (3.2 live births per woman in Ireland) and the lowest rate (1.5 live births per woman in Luxembourg) was 1.7 live births per woman (see Table 1). By 1990 the difference had decreased to 1.1 live births per woman, and by 2011 it had narrowed still further to 0.8 live births per woman. Ireland and France continued to report the highest fertility rates for the most recent period available (2011 or 2010), with just over 2.0 live births per woman; they were the only EU Member States to report fertility rates in excess of 2.0 children per woman; this was also the case in Iceland (2011) and in Turkey (2010). In contrast, the lowest fertility rates in 2011 were recorded in Hungary (1.2 live births per woman) and in Cyprus, Latvia, Poland and Romania (all 1.3 live births per woman).
As noted above, another reason that partly explains the downward development of fertility rates within the EU Member States is the decision of many parents to delay starting a family. While only a relatively short time series is available for the EU-27 aggregate, Table 2 shows that the mean age of women at childbirth continued to rise between 2002 and 2009, when it stood at 29.8 years.
Data sources and availability
Eurostat compiles information for a large range of demographic data, including statistics on the number of live births by sex, by the mother's age, education and marital status. Fertility statistics are also collected in relation to the number of births by the rank of the child (first, second, third child and so on). A series of fertility indicators are produced from the information collected, including the total fertility rate and fertility rates according to the mother's age, the mean age of women at childbirth, the crude birth rate or the relative proportion of births outside of marriage.
The EU's social policy does not include a specific strand for family issues. Policymaking in this area remains the exclusive responsibility of EU Member States, reflecting different family structures, historical developments, social attitudes and traditions from one Member State to another. Nevertheless, policymakers may well evaluate fertility statistics as a background for family policymaking. Furthermore, a number of common demographic themes are apparent across the whole of the EU, such as a reduction in the average number of children being born per woman and an increasing mean age of mothers at childbirth.
Further Eurostat information
- Towards a ‘baby recession’ in Europe? - Issue number 13/2013
- EU Employment and Social Situation - Quarterly Review - March 2013 - Special Supplement on Demographic Trends
- Population grows in twenty EU Member States - Issue number 38/2011
- The greying of baby boomers - Statistics in focus 23/2011
- Highly educated men and women likely to live longer - Issue number 24/2010
- Demographic outlook
- Population (t_popula), see:
- Demography (t_pop)
- Fertility (t_demo_fer)
- Total fertility rate (tsdde220)
- Mean age of women at childbirth (tps00017)
- Live births outside marriage (tps00018)
- Fertility (t_demo_fer)
- Population (populat), see:
- Demography (pop)
- Demography - National data
- Total population and demographic events - Annual balance (demo_gen)
- Population (demo_pop)
- Fertility (demo_fer)
- Live births by mother's age at last birthday and legal marital status (demo_fagec)
- Live births by mother's age reached during the year and legal marital status (demo_fager)
- Live births by mother's age at last birthday and by birth order (demo_fordagec)
- Live births by mother's age reached during the year and by birth order (demo_fordager)
- Live births mother's age at last birthday and by newborn's sex (demo_fasec)
- Live births by mother's age at last birthday and educational attainment (ISCED 1997) (demo_faeduc)
- Live births by month (demo_fmonth)
- Fertility indicators (demo_find)
- Fertility rates by age (demo_frate)
- Legally induced abortions by mother's age (demo_fabort)
- Legally induced abortions by mother's age and number of previous live births (demo_fabortord)
- Mortality (demo_mor)
- Marriage and divorce (demo_nup)
- Demography - regional data (demoreg)
- Demography - National data