Europe-wide decline in birth rate due to economic uncertainties

The trend in continental birth rate falls is partly related to economic uncertainty, as demographers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences show using data from the European Demographic Data Sheet.

Young people become poorer than their parents' generation

Every third country in Europe has experienced a population decline since 2000. The fact that the birth rate continues to fall is also related to the uncertain economic situation across 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 being 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 or Belgium, birth rates fell during the "Great Recession" from 2008 to 2012 and have continued to fall ever since.

These are some of the results of the surveys conducted by a team of researchers from the Institute of Demography at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (in German: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften or ÖAW), which have now been published online in the new European Demographic Datasheet 2020.

Firstborns are arriving later

One of the reasons for the declining number of children is that the age at which women have their first child is increasingly being pushed back. This means that women are less likely to have children in the most fertile phase of their lives. 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.

The data also shows that a deteriorating economic situation for young people has a negative impact on their plans for starting a family. "Poorly paid and unstable jobs, unaffordable housing, declining relative incomes and - keyword climate crisis - are continuous worries about the future: The ongoing economic pressure and the uncertainties young adults are confronted with in many countries contribute to this trend of declining birth rates," explains ÖAW demographer Tomáš Sobotka as a summary of their findings.

Young people have less income than the older generation

The extent to which the financial crisis of 2008 affected the income of the younger generations versus that of their previous age groups was also investigated by the Vienna research group. The so-called age-specific equivalised income was used to assess economic well-being. 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, where they experienced the sharpest drop in income, at 40%.

Although the data differs from country to country, the general trend is that children are becoming poorer than their parents. Looking at the figures from a generational perspective, the relative economic standing of young people between 20 and 39 years of age compared to all adults actually declined in 23 of 31 countries. Apart from Austria, these include all countries in Western, Southern, and Northern Europe with the exception of the Netherlands. 

With such prospects, there is now an open question that adds further pressure to the results. The impact of how could an economic crisis such as the one springing from the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the demographic future of the continent is not yet included in these figures.