Here we provide a summary of the selected key findings of our research, which reflect the variety of our themes, data and methods used during the project.
Many of these findings reveal long-term continuities in fertility and family behaviour: broader regions across Europe show distinct trajectories of fertility and family changes that do not show convergence over time. As a result, diversity in fertility and family is likely to prevail across Europe in the next decades, even when many countries adjust their policies and institutions to low fertility and the ongoing family changes, and women become yet more equal to men, especially in the domestic sphere.
- Women’s education remains a strongly stratifying factor in family and fertility behavior. With a few exceptions (Nordic countries, Belgium, South Korea), highly educated women continue having the lowest fertility even as their share expands rapidly and, as a result, they are becoming a more heterogeneous group. We also show long-term continuities in education-fertility differentials across regions.
- Childlessness in Europe shows a clear East-West division. In Central and Eastern Europe, women who were in prime reproductive years during the era of state socialism (that is, women born between the late 1930s and the early 1960s) remained childless much less often than their counterparts in the West. Southern Europe appears a new ‘hotspot’ of childlessness: among women born in the late 1970s, one in four are likely never to become a mother.
- In contrast with many theoretical arguments, gender equality does not seem to affect aggregate fertility and family changes: even countries that achieved very high levels of gender equality have not experienced sustained increase in cohort fertility or reversals in the marriage decline and in the rise of divorce.
- Across Europe, two has been the ideal number of children during the last four decades: two out of three women considers a two-child family as an ideal one. Two is also the most common number of children intended by women in many countries, irrespective of their education. The fact that women with high education usually have fewer children than women with low education is to a large extent explained by the larger “gap” between the intended and the realized fertility among the better educated women.
- Our study on cohort fertility in 32 low-fertility identified two contrasting pathways to very low fertility, with the rise in childlessness dominating in Southern Europe, East Asia and in the German-speaking countries in Europe and the rise in one-child families dominating in Central and Eastern Europe.
- According to population experts and our analysis of national and global population projections fertility will remain at low and very low levels through 2050 and beyond. A large majority of experts and statistical agencies predict that period fertility rates in low-fertility countries will not recover to the levels close to the “population replacement” (2.0-2.1 births per woman) even in a long-term perspective.
- The worsening of economic and labour market conditions during the recent economic recession in Europe had a strong negative effect on fertility. In two European regions most affected by the recent economic downturn—Southern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe—the fertility declines that took place after 2008 were mainly driven by rising unemployment.
- Union dissolution has a negative impact on family size among most women irrespective of the age at union formation or disruption, union status or number of children. The research at an aggregate level for several European countries reveals that the increasing prevalence of union dissolution depresses completed fertility.
- Migration clearly matters for the population trends across Europe. Thanks to high and sustained level of immigration, countries in Northern, Western and Southern Europe often experience stable or expanding generation size despite their long-term experience of low fertility rates.
- Parenthood negatively affects subjective well-being only when parents, especially mothers, face a substantial work–family conflict.