Why are birth rates falling?

Birth rate is falling due to economic uncertainty

research results

Every third country in Europe has seen its population decline since 2000. The fact that the birth rate is still falling is also due to the uncertain economic situation on the continent, as demographers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences show using data from the latest European Demographic Data Sheet.

What do Malta, Spain and Italy have in common? In no other European country are so few children born as in these three countries. And even in regions of Europe that had relatively high fertility rates in the past, such as Great Britain, Sweden and Belgium, the number of births fell during the “Great Recession” between 2008 and 2012 and has continued to decline since then.

These are some of the results from the surveys by a team of scientists from the Institute for Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), which have now been published online in the new European Demographic Data Sheet 2020.

Unsafe times, late kids

One of the reasons for the declining number of children: The age at which women have their first child is shifting backwards more and more. That means: women in the most fertile phase have fewer children now than in the past. In some countries, such as Spain, Italy, Switzerland or Ireland, women are on average over 30 years old when they give birth to their first child. For comparison: In Austria the average age is only slightly lower at 29.5 years.

What the data also shows: How a deteriorating economic situation affects young people negatively on starting a family. "Badly paid and unstable jobs, unaffordable living space, falling relative incomes and - keyword: the climate crisis - worries about the future: The ongoing economic pressure and the uncertainties with which young adults are confronted in many countries contribute to this trend of falling birth rates" , ÖAW demographer Tomáš Sobotka summarizes the results.

The young have less income than the older generation

The extent to which the financial crisis of 2008 affected the income of the younger generations differently than the income of older people was also surveyed by the Vienna research group. The so-called age-specific equivalised income was used to assess economic well-being. With the result: In ten of the 31 countries analyzed, young adults suffered economic losses between 2008 and 2017. Young adults were hit hardest in Greece: They experienced the steepest decline in income at 40 percent.

Although the data differ from country to country, the general trend is that boys are getting poorer than their parents. Looking at the numbers from a generational perspective, the relative economic position of young people between the ages of 20 and 39 compared to all adults declined in 23 out of 31 countries. In addition to Austria, this includes all countries in Western, Southern and Northern Europe with the exception of the Netherlands.

And: How an economic crisis like the one triggered by the corona pandemic will affect the demographic future of the continent is not even included in these figures.


Scientific contact:
Tomáš Sobotka
Institute for Demography
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Vordere Zollamtsstraße 3, 1030 Vienna
M +43 650 5101357
[email protected]
Additional Information:

http: // The European Demographic Data Sheet shows current trends in population development in Europe. It is published by the Institute for Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) with scientists from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the University of Vienna.
http://www.populationeurope.org