Don’t Call it a Comeback: Euro-Babies on the Rise

Along with its current sovereign debt issues, Europe has been facing a declining birthrate for the last couple decades- something that becomes a particular problem when welfare systems don’t have enough young contributors to support the old. But according to a recent RAND research brief, European fertility rates appear to be bouncing back.

Many European governments have been concerned about falling fertility rates, due to the welfare implications of an aging population supported by a shrinking workforce. However, ‘doomsday’ scenarios of fertility spiraling downwards and European populations imploding have not materialized; indeed, recent snapshots of indicators for childbearing suggest some recovery in fertility.

European women are still waiting longer to have children, but they’re having them at the same rate that they did a generation ago. The initial period in the 1970s and 1980s when women waited to have children left a data set that might be more of a hiccup than a permanent population change.

If we look at age-specific trends, we can see that the fertility decline at younger maternal ages has stabilized, while at later ages, fertility is increasing. Couples are having about the same number of children as couples 30 years ago, but at a later age.

The briefing is quick to knock down the theory that immigration is the primary driver of Europe’s recovering fertility rates. Immigrants generally acclimate to the trends of their adopted homes fairly quickly: “The data reveal that the fertility trends of many groups of foreign-born women tend to converge with the average of native women.” In Sweden for example, RAND notes  that immigrant fertility rates typically converge with native rates within two years.

Still, though Europe’s population might be recovering, it will take at least a generation to reverse the decades-long decline, especially as European populations continue to age. So in the end, this doesn’t really change the short term affordability question of Europe’s pension and healthcare programs.

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  1. Mike B says:

    If women delay having children lower overall birthrates are inevitable simply because there is less time available to have children in any given woman’s life. Perhaps there is a win-win solution where in retired workers can be outsourced to countries with lower costs of living so Europe can better enjoy the benefits of reduced population growth like lower unemployment and reduced environmental impact.

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    • Heidi says:

      Oh sure, just ship grandma oversea somewhere, I’m sure someone will take care of her and make sure she gets her medicine…or not, but what do I care? Meanwhile I’ll just enjoy my life, which is so much better without Grandma.

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  2. iseIiIja says:

    It´s somewhat better than feared, but still awful:

    “While the outlook for fertility is better than it was a decade ago, fertility rates in several countries are still alarmingly low.
    This will lead to significantly fewer young people in the labour force a generation from now, and have a long-term multiplier effect, reducing the future population of potential mothers.

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    • Joshua Northey says:

      Fewer people is good, we just need to disabuse people of foolish notions that they should only have to work for 1/3 of their life.

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      • James says:

        True. Europe is already drastically overpopulated (as is the US). Consider the social conditions – a large number of mostly young, mostly unemployed (and unemployable) people crammed into urban slums – that led to the recent London riots, for instance. A higher birthrate to support an older population that doesn’t work (and in many cases isn’t allowed to due to mandatory retirements &c), added to a younger populaton that doesn’t work, is a recipe for eventual disaster.

        Maybe this is a too-obvious question, but when Europe already has large numbers of unemployed younger people, most of whom apparently survive on some form of the dole (which comes from taxes mostly paid by the middle-aged and older), by what stretch of logic can it be claimed that population increase is necessary to support older people?

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      • Fitty Stim says:


        I’m not really sure if you’ve ever been to Europe but your characterization of “people crammed into urban slums” is off. True that some countries like the Netherlands have a very high population density but calling these Dutch cities “slums” only means that you must have a very, very high standard of living (I assume you are a multi-millionaire).

        As is your assumption that there is “an older population that doesn’t work”. While it’s true that people in certain countries (Greece comes to mind) retire at a relatively young age (50 or so), this would seem to counter your arguement concerning unemployment among youth. The fact of the matter is that “most” people in “Europe” work until they are in their 60’s – just like the US (they just don’t work as many hours per year for many, many different reasons).

        Lastly, your belief that “most [younger Europeans] survive on some form of [welfare]” is not supported by any facts.

        Unemployment for those 25 and under (Feb 2011, Eurostat):

        Sweden (where I live and one of the worst in the EU): 25%
        EU-27 average: 20.7%
        USA: 18.4%

        In no case, is one-fifth of the work force equal to “most”. But I do agree that it’s a problem

        My advice is to not believe everything you hear or read.

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      • Joshua Northey says:

        I think people retiring in their 60s in the US is just as bad an idea as it is in Europe. In a sane economy only the upper middle class and upper class people who have been very fiscally responsible should be retiring that early.

        We cannot run the economy with people being trained for 25 years, doing useful work for 35 years, and then being retired for 25 years. It will require much higher productivity or much lower standards of living.

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      • James says:

        In fact I have lived (and worked) in England & Switzerland, and spent time in a number of other countries, so I am believing what I’ve seen. Granted, I’ve never been to the Netherlands, so can’t comment on the quality of their cities. But in those countries I have visited, I did see those urban slums.

        (And though I’m fairly prosperous, I’m a ways from being even a single millionaire, let alone multi. But I do live in a rural area, which tends to color my view of any city.)

        I do think you are misreading much of what I wrote. For instance, you point out that most people in Europe retire in their 60s, which is EXACTLY what I meant about retiring (or being forced to retire) at a relatively young age. Why should we (and I say we because I’m closer than I care to think about) be forced or pressured to give up doing productive work that we enjoy and are good at, simply because our personal calendar has reached a certain date?

        Second, I did not say that most young Europeans survive on the dole, I said that there are a large number who are unemployed (I think that a fifth of the age group counts as a large number, don’t you?), and that most of those survive on some form of dole. I admit that last is only my perception from reading, so if you know otherwise, educate me.

        Nor did I say that the US is all that different from Europe in this respect. Europe is leading, but not by all that much.

        In any case, the figures you supply only support the point that I was trying to make, which is that with a fifth of the current young population unemployed, how can anyone argue that Europe (or the US) needs a population increase?

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  3. John B says:

    Let’s look at the math.

    By having children later in life (and assuming that continues into following generations), there will be fewer births, and a lower population, as the time between each generation is longer.

    In the past, women had children in late teens, early twenties. So within a century, there were five generations. By having children at age 33 or so, you will have only 3 generations per century.

    So even if women have the same number of children as in the past, the population will shrink substantially over time.

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  4. marcus says:

    John B. We also live longer. So the population doesn’t necessarily have to shrink because of a longer gap between the generations. But as of now the retirement age stays the same so the percentage of retired people will increase none the less. In the past a lot of people didn’t live long enough to earn a pension, nowadays most people live at least 15 years past the retirement age. At some point we will have to choose between a later retirement age, higher taxation of the work force or reduced pensions for the elderly. Or perhaps hoping for exceptional economic growth but that doesn’t seems so likely nowadays.

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    • John B says:

      I agree with: “At some point we will have to choose between a later retirement age, higher taxation of the work force or reduced pensions for the elderly. Or perhaps hoping for exceptional economic growth but that doesn’t seems so likely nowadays.”

      But that does not address the future population decline if the age women of having children continues at the present rate.

      We have had an increase in life expectancy and that has exacerbated the problems of the large elderly populations which will be coming along due to the post WWII baby boom. However, most of those “boomers” were born to women at much earlier ages than now.

      As explained by the math I cited, as this boom of older people passes on, there will be a significant population decline.

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  5. Joel Upchurch says:

    I just checked the fertility rates for all of Europe and they all have a fertility rate below the replacement rate of 2.1. I don’t how RAND did their math, but the doesn’t add up to ‘rebounding’ to me. That adds up to shrinking slower.

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  6. Nanno says:

    Aren’t the women who are having children later in life usually the same as the woman having a higher degree of education and a career or are at least working and are therefore the young people supporting the elderly. I always associate young (teen, early twenties) moms with unemployed, lower educated, non-contributing and reducing the chances for their children. I often see people younger than me (23) with kids and I wonder how they can afford it, we all know children are expensive and good education and other child developing tools (sports clubs, after-school activities, additional or supporting schooling and traveling) even more so. I work at least 40 hours a week and I’m doing well, but I know I can’t ‘afford’ having a child.

    I think women having children later in life have more to offer to their children and have contributed to their country. You can’t tell me that having higher educated women who give their children a good chance in life are worth less than lower educated early moms often depending on social security.

    I personally also think that lower birthrates isn’t necessarily a bad thing since (as people have already stated) we are rapidly overpopulating the planet and average life-expectancy is still becoming longer and longer (That’s why in the Netherlands have extended the retirement age from 65 to 67 note: in the economically distressed country of Greece it is/was 53) lower birthrates might actually stabilize the population at a sustainable level.

    Anyone seen Idiocracy? That movie makes the point that lower educated people on average get more children and therefore all humans will become idiots, somewhat exaggerated but not a bad point.

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    • Heidi says:

      I had my first child at 21, and although my husband and I were not wealthy, we provided a perfectly wonderful childhood for her and our 2 subsequent children. I also continued my education and we have steadily increased our income (I have only worked part-time intermittently so most of that I admit is due to my awesome husband). Now that our oldest is 9 we can easily afford after school activities and other forms of enrichment. Having children early is not always a bad thing, and waiting to have children later in life is a risk as well due to declining fertility and other age related health problems. I guess my point is that there is always risk and uncertainty involved in having children, waiting until some mythical day when you are perfectly ready for children is not really wise.

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  7. Jonas Å says:

    Ah, we’ll be fine. Don’t worry about Europe. 😉

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  8. Peter says:

    The fundamental problem is that Europe (and the US) is based on a Ponzi scheme, which requires ever more young ones at the bottom to steal from. Over the last 40+ years, as population growth has slowed from massive exponential explosion rates to a mere tickel, the fraudsters have resorted to stealing from those who aren’t even born yet. That’s a pretty clever scheme, really, since they can’t complain. Here in the US, the federal government just authorized another few trillion of stealing from the unborn by raising the debt ceiling, but that, sadly, doesn’t begin to compare with the tens of trillion hidden debts already in place.

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