- Data extracted in March 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: April 2017.
This article looks at the development of a range of indicators concerning the number of births and fertility across the European Union (EU). Fertility steadily declined from the mid-1960s through to the turn of the century in the EU Member States. However, in recent years the total fertility rate in the EU-28 displayed some signs of rising again. This development stopped in 2010 and a decline has been observed again since 2011.
Main statistical findings
In 2014, 5.1 million children were born in the EU-28, corresponding to a crude birth rate (the number of live births per 1 000 persons) of 10.1. In comparison, this rate was 10.6 in 2000, 12.8 in 1985 and 16.4 in 1970.
The highest annual total of live births for the EU-28 was recorded in 1964, with 7.7 million live births. From the 1960s up to the beginning of the 21st century, the number of live births in the EU-28 declined from 7.5 million to a low of 5.0 million in 2002 (see Figure 1). This was followed by a modest rebound in the number of live births, with a high of 5.5 million children born in the EU-28 in 2008, in turn followed by further annual reductions.
In recent decades Europeans have generally been having fewer children, and this pattern partly explains the slowdown in the EU-28’s population growth (see Population and population change statistics). The most widely used indicator of fertility is the total fertility rate: this is the mean number of children that would be born alive to a woman during her lifetime if she were to pass through her childbearing years conforming to the age-specific fertility rates of a given year. A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level in developed countries: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant in the absence of inward or outward migration. A total fertility rate below 1.3 live births per woman is described as 'lowest-low fertility'. The total fertility rate is comparable across countries since it takes into account changes in the size and structure of the population.
In 2014, the total fertility rate in the EU-28 was 1.58 live births per woman. The EU-28's fertility rate increased from a low of 1.46 in 2001 to a high of 1.62 in 2010, subsequently followed by a slight decrease to 1.58 in 2014. Figure 2 also shows that the mean age of women at childbirth continued to rise between 2001 and 2014, from 29.0 to 30.4 years. One explanation for the increase in the fertility rate is that it may have been related to a catching-up process: following the trend to give birth later in life (witnessed by the increase in the mean age of women at childbirth), the total fertility rate might have declined first, before a subsequent recovery.
Among the EU Member States, France reported the highest fertility rate in 2014, with 2.01 live births per woman. By contrast, the lowest fertility rates in 2014 were recorded in Portugal (1.23 live births per woman), Greece (1.30 live births per woman), Cyprus (1.31 live births per woman), Spain and Poland (both 1.32 live births per woman). In many EU Member States, the total fertility rate declined considerably between 1980 and 2000–03: by 2000, values had fallen below 1.30 in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Slovenia and Slovakia. After reaching a low point between 2000 and 2003, the total fertility rate increased in most Member States and by 2014, the vast majority reported rates of 1.30 or higher, the only exception being Portugal.
In the past 50 years, total fertility rates in the EU Member States have, in general, been converging: in 1960 and in 1980, the disparity between the highest (Ireland) and the lowest (Estonia in 1960, Luxembourg in 1980) fertility rates was around 1.8 live births per woman, while in 1970 it was around 2.0. By 1990 this difference (between Cyprus and Italy) had decreased to 1.1 live births per woman. Since 2000 it has been around 0.7 to 0.8 live births per woman.
Figure 3 shows in one graph the total fertility rate with the mean age of women at the birth of their first child in 2014. Some of the countries with the highest total fertility rate also have a high mean age for women at the birth of their first child. Four different groups of EU Member States can be broadly identified based on the EU-28 total fertility rate and the mean age at first child in 2014. One group is composed of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden, where both the total fertility rate and the mean age at first child were above the EU-28 total fertility rate; this was also the case in Norway. Another group is made up of most of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 or more recently: in these Member States both the total fertility rate and the mean age of mothers at the birth of their first child were below the EU-28 values, as was also the case in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania. A third group of Member States (Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Austria and Portugal) have mothers who were older at the birth of their first child and a lower total fertility rate than the EU-28 average. A fourth group (Belgium, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and the United Kingdom) had a higher total fertility rate than the EU-28 average but mothers that were younger when having their first child; this was also the case in Iceland and Albania. Slovenia’s total fertility rate was equal to that of the EU-28 but the mean age of women at the birth of their first child was slightly lower.
Close to half (46.1 %) of the children born in the EU-28 in 2014 were first born children, with this share exceeding half in Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Bulgaria and Malta (see Figure 4). By contrast, the lowest shares of first born children were in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Finland. More than one third (35.8 %) of births were of second born children, just over one tenth (12.2 %) were of third born children, and the remaining 5.9 % were of fourth born or subsequent children. Across the EU Member States, the highest share of births ranked fourth or subsequent among total births was recorded in Finland (10.0 %), followed by the United Kingdom and Ireland (both 9.2 %).
Data sources and availability
Eurostat compiles information for a large range of demographic data, including statistics on the number of live births by sex, by the mother’s age, education and marital status. Fertility statistics are also collected in relation to the number of births by the rank of the child (first, second, third child and so on). A series of fertility indicators are produced from the information collected, including the total fertility rate and fertility rates according to the mother’s age, the mean age of women at childbirth, the crude birth rate or the relative proportion of births outside of marriage.
The EU’s social policy does not include a specific strand for family issues. Policymaking in this area remains the exclusive responsibility of EU Member States, reflecting different family structures, historical developments, social attitudes and traditions from one Member State to another. Nevertheless, policymakers may well evaluate fertility statistics as a background for family policymaking. Furthermore, a number of common demographic themes are apparent across the whole of the EU, such as a reduction in the average number of children being born per woman and the increasing mean age of mothers at childbirth.
- Fertility statistics in relation to economy, parity, education and migration
- Marriage and divorce statistics
- Mortality and life expectancy statistics
- Population and population change statistics
- Population structure and ageing
Further Eurostat information
- Demography report — 2015 edition
- EU Employment and Social Situation — Quarterly Review — March 2013 — Special Supplement on Demographic Trends
- Highly educated men and women likely to live longer — Statistics in focus 24/2010
- The greying of baby boomers — Statistics in focus 23/2011
- Towards a ‘baby recession’ in Europe? — Statistics in focus 13/2013
- Fertility (t_demo_fer)
- Total fertility rate (tsdde220)
- Mean age of women at childbirth (tps00017)
- Share of live births outside marriage (tps00018)
- Fertility (demo_fer)
- Live births (total) by month (demo_fmonth)
- Live births by mother's age and newborn's sex (demo_fasec)
- Live births by mother's age and birth order (demo_fordagec)
- Live births by mother's year of birth (age reached) and birth order (demo_fordager)
- Live births by mother's age and legal marital status (demo_fagec)
- Live births by mother's year of birth (age reached) and legal marital status (demo_fager)
- Live births by mother's age and educational attainment (demo_faeduc)
- Live births by mother's age and activity status (demo_faemplc)
- Live births by mother's age and citizenship (demo_faczc)
- Live births by mother's age and country of birth (demo_facbc)
- Live births by birth weight and duration of gestation (demo_fweight)
- Legally induced abortions by mother's age (demo_fabort)
- Legally induced abortions by mother's age and number of previous live births (demo_fabortord)
- Fertility indicators (demo_find)
- Fertility rates by age (demo_frate)
Methodology / Metadata
Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)