Europe's second demographic transition

Popul Bull. 1987 Mar;42(1):1-59.


PIP: By 1985, fertility rates in Europe were below the replacement level of 2.1 births/woman in all but Albania, Ireland, Malta, Poland, and Turkey, following a steady decline from a 1965 postwar peak well above 2.5 in Northern, Western, and Southern Europe and an erratic trend from a lower level in Eastern Europe. Natural decrease (fewer births than deaths) had begun already in Austria, Denmark, Hungary, and the Federal Republic of Germany and can be expected shortly in many other countries. According to current UN medium projections, Europe's population (minus the USSR) will grow only 6% between 1985 and 2025, from 492 to 524 million and 18.4% of the population in 2025 will be 65 and over. The decline to low fertility in the 1930s during Europe's 1st demographic transition was propelled by a concern for family and offspring. Behind the 2nd transition is a dramatic shift in norms toward progressiveness and individualism, which is moving Europeans away from marriage and parenthood. Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock fertility are increasingly acceptable; having a child is more and more a deliberate choice made to achieve greater self-fulfillment. Many Europeans view population decline and aging as threats to national influence and the welfare state. However, governments outside Eastern Europe, except for France, have hesitated to try politically risky and costly economic pronatalist incentives. As used in Eastern Europe, coupled with some restrictions on legal abortion, such incentives have not managed to boost fertility back up to replacement level. Immigration as a solution is unfeasible. All countries of immigration have now imposed strict controls, tried to stimulate return migration of guestworkers recruited during labor shortages of the 1960s and early 1970s, and now aim at rapid integration of minorities. Only measures compatible with the shift to individualism might slow or reverse the fertility decline, but a rebound to replacement level seems unlikely and long-term population decline appears inevitable for most of Europe.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Rate*
  • Demography
  • Developed Countries
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Europe
  • Europe, Eastern
  • Family Planning Policy*
  • Fertility
  • Marriage
  • Population
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Public Policy