- Data extracted in March 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: April 2018.
This article looks at the development of a range of indicators concerning the number of births and fertility across the European Union (EU). Fertility rates steadily declined from the mid-1960s through to the turn of the century in the EU Member States. However, at the beginning of the 2000s, the total fertility rate in the EU-28 displayed signs of rising again. This development stopped in 2010 and a subsequent decline was observed through to a relative low in 2013, followed by a slight increase in 2014 and no change in 2015.
Main statistical findings
In 2015, 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 10.0. For comparison, the EU-28 crude birth rate had stood at 10.6 in 2000, 12.8 in 1985 and 16.3 in 1970.
During the period 1961–2015, the highest annual total for the number of live births in the EU-28 was recorded in 1964, at 7.8 million. From this relative high up to the beginning of the 21st century, the number of live births in the EU-28 declined at a relatively steady pace, reaching 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 up to 2013 (5.1 million live births); there was almost no change in the number of live births in the EU-28 in 2014 or 2015.
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 migration. A total fertility rate below 1.3 live births per woman is often referred to 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 2015, the total fertility rate in the EU-28 was 1.58 live births per woman (the same rate was recorded in 2014). The EU-28’s fertility rate increased from a low of 1.46 in 2001 and 2002 to a relative high of 1.62 in 2010, subsequently followed by a slight decrease to 1.55 in 2013 before a modest rebound in 2014. Figure 2 also shows that the mean age of women at childbirth continued to rise between 2001 and 2015, from an average of 29.0 to 30.5 years. One partial 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 2015, with 1.96 live births per woman. By contrast, the lowest fertility rates in 2015 were recorded in Portugal (1.31 live births per woman), Poland and Cyprus (both 1.32 live births per woman), Greece and Spain (both 1.33 live births per woman). In most of the EU Member States, the total fertility rate declined considerably between 1980 and 2000–2003: 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 2015, all of them reported total fertility rates that were above 1.30.
In the past 45 years, total fertility rates in the EU Member States have, in general, been converging: in 1970, the disparity between the highest rates (recorded in Ireland) and the lowest rates (recorded in Finland) was around 2.0 live births per woman. By 1990 this difference — between a high in Cyprus and a low in Italy — had decreased to 1.1 live births per woman. By 2010, the difference had fallen again to 0.8 live births per woman with a high in Ireland and a low in Hungary. This difference of 0.8 live births per woman was repeated in both 2013 and 2004, when the highest total fertility rate was recorded in France and the lowest rate was recorded in Portugal. The same two Member States were at either end of the range in 2015, although the gap narrowed to 0.7 live births per woman, as the fertility rate in France fell (note however that there was a break in series) and that in Portugal rose.
Figure 3 shows a plot of the total fertility rate against the mean age of women at the birth of their first child in 2015. Some of the countries with the highest total fertility rates also had a relatively high mean age of women at the birth of their first child. Four different groups of EU Member States can be broadly identified based on their position with respect to the EU-28 averages (as identified by the quadrants defined by the blue lines). The first group (top right quadrant) is composed of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden, where both the total fertility rate and the mean age of women at the birth of their first child were above the EU-28 average. A second group (bottom left quadrant) is made up of most of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 or more recently: both their total fertility rates and mean ages of women at the birth of their first child were below the EU-28 averages, as was also the case in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia. A third group (bottom right quadrant) composed of Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Austria and Portugal, as well as Switzerland recorded a higher than average mean age of women at the birth of their first child but a lower total fertility rate than the EU-28 average. The final group (top left quadrant) was composed of the three Baltic Member States, Belgium, France, Romania, Finland and the United Kingdom, as well as Albania (2014 data for the mean age of women at birth of first child), Norway and Iceland; in each of these, the total fertility rate was higher than the EU-28 average but the mean age of women at the birth of their first child was below the EU-28 average.
Close to half (45.9 %) of the children born in the EU-28 in 2015 were first born children, with this share exceeding half in Luxembourg, Romania, Portugal, Spain, Malta and Bulgaria (see Figure 4). By contrast, the lowest shares of first born children were recorded in Ireland (37.8 %), the United Kingdom (39.8 %) and Finland (41.3 %).
In the EU-28, more than one third (36.0 %) of all live births in 2015 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 the total number of live births ranked fourth or subsequent was recorded in Finland (9.7 %), followed by Ireland (9.3 %) and the United Kingdom (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 (of new-borns), by the mother’s age, level of educational attainment and marital status. Fertility statistics are also collected in relation to the number of births and by birth order (in other words, 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)
- Number of live births (tps00111)
- Crude birth rate (tps00112)
- 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)