Posted on June 20, 2011

Low Fertility in Europe: Is There Still Reason to Worry?

Stijn Hoorens et al., Rand Corporation, June, 2011


Many European governments have been concerned about falling fertility rates, because of the welfare implications of an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. However, ‘Doomsday’ scenarios of fertility spiralling downwards and European populations imploding have not yet materialised. Recent statistics for childbearing even suggest some recovery in Europe’s fertility. RAND Europe therefore decided to update its 2004 study into the causes and consequences of low fertility in Europe. The report analyses the latest data, reviewed recent literature, and examined the situation in Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK in depth.

The recent recovery appears to be due to complex set of interacting factors, including economic growth, increased female labour participation, and improved gender equality in the work force. Policy and the fertility of migrants also had an effect, albeit limited. Policy makers should note that European couples are not necessarily having more children, but are having them later in life, and that rising fertility rates will not have an immediate impact on population ageing or its consequences.

The outlook for fertility in the EU as a whole is not as bleak as it was a decade ago, but fertility rates in several countries are still alarmingly low. These countries will need to continue exploring ways to remove the barriers to parenthood. Implementing measures that help both women and men to combine their career with their family life has direct effects for gender equality and labour force participation, but potential positive externalities for childbearing behaviour.

Editor’s Note: The full report can be downloaded here.