Volume 32 - Article 21 | Pages 621–656
Background: In the period 1995-2002 there was a change in trajectory from decline to rise in first birth fertility rates across Europe.
Objective: A number of previous studies have looked at the demographic causes of the transition. This study evaluates their conclusions by analysing a comprehensive set of indicators for fifteen countries with data in the Human Fertility Database.
Methods: Comparisons are made between the four years before and after the fertility trough, to discover what changed between these two periods.
Results: In the period before the trough, peak age-specific fertility rates were falling; these tended to stabilise after the year of minimum fertility. The width of the fertility curve, however, was already widening in the 1990s, and this trend continued. The transition from fall to rise in TFR1 occurred when the increase in the width of the curve more than compensated for any further falls in peak rates; this explanation is valid for countries in both Eastern and Western Europe. The increasing width of the fertility curve was caused by two factors: the decline in young (pre-modal) fertility slowed, whilst the rise in older (post-modal) fertility accelerated. For some countries, a rise in underlying cohort rates also contributed to the rise in period rates. The likelihood of childless women entering motherhood also rose in some but not all countries.
Conclusions: During the 1990s, women were postponing first births across Europe. A rebound took place for several reasons, with the overarching driver being the strong rise in late fertility.
Comments: In some countries the steep rise in late fertility had an unexpected and paradoxical effect on postponement rates (defined as the year-on-year increase in mean age at first birth). Recuperation at post-modal ages of postponed first births caused an acceleration in ‘postponement’ rates, as defined by this metric.
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