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Fertility in Europe - A sociodemographic analysis

Bachelorarbeit 2005 36 Seiten

Soziologie - Familie, Frauen, Männer, Sexualität, Geschlechter



List of Charts

List of Tables


1. Population in the European Union
1.1 Demographic Status Quo
1.2 Population structure
1.3 Europe and the World Population

2. Fertility
2.1 Fertility in the European Union
2.2 Fertility Development
2.3 Implications of low fertility

3. Cross-country patterns of fertility and socio-demographic coherences
3.1 General characteristics
3.2 Fertility and education
3.3 Fertility and labour
3.3.1 Labour force participation
3.3.2 Labour market and female participation in Italy
3.4 Fertility and religious affiliation
3.5 Fertility and family structures
3.5.1 Household size
3.5.2 Marriage, divorce and cohabitation

4. Conclusion


List of Charts

Chart 1.1 Total European Population (Population of the 25 Member States of the European Union; 1. January 2006; in thousands; Source: Eurostat 2006)..

Chart 1.2 Life Expectancy (Life expectancy in Czech Republic, Spain, France, Finland and EU 25; Source: Eurostat 2006)

Chart 1.3 Age at first birth (Mean age at first birth in Czech Republic, Spain, France and Finland; Source: Eurostat 2006)

Chart 1.4 Proportion Single/Extended Households at Total Households (Proportion of Single and Extended Households at Total Households in Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Hungary, Czech Republic, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and EU 15; in %; Source: Eurostat 2006)

List of Tables

Table 1.1 Proportion of people aged 0-14 and 65+, in % (People aged 0-14 and 65+, Proportion at total population in Czech Republic, Spain, France, Finland and EU 25; Source: Eurostat 2006)


The world’s demographic situation is a paradox one. While the global population is growing dramatically and lots of countries are confronted with the problem of an uncontrolled and drastically birth surplus, many nations are facing demographic difficulties reversely. Both tendencies are holding formidable intricatenesses – by economic, environmental as well as by social nature. National governments and international organizations are following different strategies to get a grip on demographic dynamics and are prospering variably.

While demographic policies in non-western countries are aiming at the reduction of the population growth – basically by means of methods consolidated under the term of ‘Family Planning’ – western countries are attempting the opposite by forcing the rise of natality.

Despite the sum of political activities implemented in nearly all societal areas, European countries are holding the lowest rates of fertility worldwide - an average European woman gives birth to 1,43 children today. Compared to Africa and Asia, where 4,68 respectively 2,35 children are born by a single woman, the value appears dramatically and is understandably providing a basis for fervid, often irrational and populist discussions and agitations. But even when keeping distance to embroidering scenarios and apocalyptic prospects, certain demographic imbalances cannot be negated.

The continuous decrease of birth rates in nearly all European countries has to be accepted as an incontrovertible fact. Nevertheless there’s nothing like an ‘European Consistency’ regarding the character and pace of regressing birth rates, but a plurality of different demographic developments with disparate velocity and determinated by unequal terms.

Considering the demographic reality of Europe matter-of-factly, this paper will try to trace the pattern of natalistic developments in the European Union against the background of specific national, social, political, economical, religious and cultural contexts. On the one hand, demographic realities of the Member States will be compared with each other, whereas country-specific peculiarities will be taken into consideration as well as cross-national phenomena. On the other hand, the attempt of an embedding of just those demographic realities into their socio-cultural contexts will be carried out. By establishing a connection between demographic data and its societal provenience, fertility-related developments will be represented as cross-linked, multi-layered processes. Due to the complexity of the subject, interrelations will be established merely with selected causal factors.

In the first chapter, the European demography and its characteristics will be described. After glancing at the demographic situation and its past development (2.1), eminent structural features will be pointed out (2.2) and a global relation will be arranged (2.3).

The second chapter is devoted to the demographic process of fertility. After describing the current levels of fertility in the countries of the European Union and the European Union as a whole (2.1), the focus will be put on the historical development of fertility regarding the last five decades (2.2). By revealing potential consequences of the demographic development, the concluding chapter will take a foresight and particularly will be reflecting about the issue of the ‘ageing society’ (2.3).

Chapter 3 – the paper’s core – is going to take a closer look at European fertility and it’s concomitant phenomena. After showing general characteristics of the fertility decline (3.1), it’s interconnectedness with socio-demographic conditions will be pointed out. On the main basis of existing empirical findings and theoretical considerations, interrelations between current fertility levels and education (3.2), female labour market participation (3.3), religious affiliation (3.4) and family structures (3.5) will be taken into consideration.

The analysis will basically refer to the confederation of the European Union (EU), and thus to its 25 Member States. Alternative national entities will be included only rudimentarily, as well as intrastate differences will broadly be disregarded. The main data origin is constituted by the sources of the Statistical Office of the European Commission (Eurostat), which provides comprehensive statistical information about the demographic, social and economic situation in the 25 countries of the European Union. Additionally, the database of the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNPD) will offer a subsidiary statistical framework.

1. Population in the European Union

1.1 Demographic Status Quo

Currently, more than 460 million people are living in the 25 countries of the European Union. In 2005, the total European population was 460497,7 million (see Eurostat 2006).

The biggest country in the EU is Germany, whose citizens are making up 18 % of the total European population, followed by France, Great Britain and Italy with 13 % at a time.

Curtly 16 % of the European population are accounting for the new Member States (see Eurostat 2005: 62f).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Eurostat 2006

Although the population development in the European Union has been embossed by a permanent ascent until the year 2000, the European share of the total world numbers has diminished and still will decline to an increasing degree (see Day 1992: 1). In the period between 1960 and the mid 1980ies, the first clear decline of the yearly population growth was to be found – whereas in the 60ies 3,4 million people enriched the EU per annum, it were only 1,3 million in 1985 (see Eurostat 2005: 62).

During the 1990ies the population development followed different and erratic tendencies of growth as well as loss and began to arise consistently with an average accession of 1,8 million per year since the year 2000 (see Eurostat 2005: 62)[1].

1.2 Population structure

Even though the lives of Europeans toady are lived very differently considering family relationships, longevity, mobility etc., Europe has become more homogeneous in terms of demographic behaviour. As a matter of fact, population structures in the countries of the European Union are aligning as the main tendencies of the population development are congruent.

In all European countries, people are living longer as medical infrastructure and sanitarily conditions advance (see Eurostat 2002: 11). The life expectancy in the European Union has risen inexorably during the last decades and was 77,6 years in 2000 (see Eurostat 2006)[2].

Still there exists a difference between male and female life expectancy, as women in European countries life 6,4 years longer than their male fellow citizen. The life expectancy for an European women was 80,8 years in 2000, whereas it was 74,4 years for men (see Eurostat 2006).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Eurostat 2006

This circumstance is also affecting European countries’ sex ratios. In the whole Union, the total number of females is outweighing the number of males. The sex ratio of the European Union was 100 males to 105,1 females in the year 2000, albeit again varieties between the single nations were to be found. The highest difference between male and female total numbers is existing in the countries of Eastern Europe – in the New Member states, 100 males are pitted against 107,1 females (see Eurostat 2006).

Most evidently, a gradually ageing of the population is taking place in all countries of the European Union. Basically due to enhanced life expectancy and diminishing birth rates, the European Union is progressively getting older. Whereas the group of citizens aged under 14 years was 23,8% in 1975, it was only 16,% in 2004. In the same period of time, the group of old people (thus citizens aged over 65) was growing from 12,6% in 1975 up to 16,5% in 2004 (see Eurostat 2006).

As a matter of fact, dependency ratios have shifted as the relation between working and non-working parts of population has changed[3]. In the year 1975, the Old dependency ratio was 19,9% - until 2004 it increased up to 24,5% (see Eurostat 2006). Due to the fact that less children are born and coevally people’s life expectancy is growing further, the assignment of supporting unproductive fellowmen for young family members and national governments will be ascending intensely and therefore provide emotional topics for ideological charged discourses (see Chapter 2.3).

Although different in terms of timing and intensity, the demographic trend of a senescent age structure can be found in all countries of the European Union. As we can see by attending four selected, geographically dispersed countries, the demographic homogeneity of Europe is evident in face of its ageing:

Table 1.1 Proportion of people aged 0-14 and 65+, in % 1975 1990 2004

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Eurostat 2006

1.3 Europe and the World Population

“In the period of time you need to read this sentence, 20 people are born.”[4]

The Twentieth Century was characterized by an exceptionally growth of the world population that increased from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion people, whereas 80 percent of the increase has occurred since 1950 (see United Nations Population Division 2001:5). This population growth was widely based on demographic processes going on in less developed parts of the world. As in virtually all industrialized countries a descent of fertility rates was establishing, the growth of the world population was mostly borne by developing countries (see Auhauser 2002: 116). These nations are still growing fast and that for different reasons: On the one hand modern medicine and methods of hygiene have been introduced very fast what resulted in a drastic drop of death rates. Due to that circumstance, life expectancy of most people in the so-called South has increased for 20 years on average (see UN Population Database 2006).

On the other hand, many of the countries of the South still show comparatively high fertility rates, which – in many places - constantly remain on an exacting level (see UN Population Database 2006). Although a trend towards a worldwide decrease of fertility is to be observed, most of the non-western countries – especially African nations – are following that alley more unhurriedly[5].

For the year 2025 there is estimated a population of 8,04 billion; in 2050 there will be living 9,37 billion people on the planet (see UN Population Database 2006). The proportion of non-western countries will thereby continue to increase, as Africa’s share of the world population will ascent from 13% in 2000 to 20% in 2050. The demographic weight of Asia and Latin America will remain constant with 60% respectively 9%, whereas Europe will lose in relative proportions as its share of the world total declines to 7% (see UN Population Database 2006).


[1] A substantial proportion of the recent population growth has to be assigned to migration movements, as the European Union showed comparatively high migration rates during the last decade (see Eurostat 2005: 74).

[2] Despite that positive trend towards and increasing of the individual’s life span, certain inequalities within the Union can’t be denied. For example, a Czech citizen can expect to live for 75,8 years, whereas people in France live 80,2 years on average (see Eurostat 2006). In this context, the correlation between health and social indicators such as education, working conditions and income has to be pointed out. Several studies show immense social differences regarding the health conditions of citizens in the countries of the European Union (see Eurostat 2002: 11).

[3] The Old dependency ratio results from the comparison between people aged over 65 and the employable population, thus people aged between 15 and 64. This variant is only one – though the most common – way of evaluating the degree of dependency. Due to the difficulties regarding a definition of ‘old’ and ‘young’, dependency ratios may differ according to their assignation of the particular age groups. For example, Eurostat is providing a second variant of Old dependency rate that compares people aged between 20 and 59 and people aged over 60. Furthermore it’s important to distinguish Old dependency ratio from Age dependency ratio, which results from comparing a nation’s employable part (15-64) with its non-.working dependants (0-14 and 65+).

[4] Meanwhile a truism and mutually intelligible

[5] Comparing the Total Fertility Rates, we can see huge differences even between non-western civilizations. An average african woman gives birth to nearly 5 children (TFR 2000-2005: 4,97), whereas in Asia and Latin America only 2,47 respectively 2,55 children are getting born by one woman. If the UN-projection for the year 2050 is accurate, Asia’s TFR should be 1,91, whereas Latin America should have a TFR of 1,86 by then. In Africa we would see a Total Fertility Rate of 2,52 (see UN Population Database 2006).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
538 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Wien – Institut für Soziologie
Fertility Europe



Titel: Fertility in Europe - A sociodemographic analysis