Europe does not meet generational replacement levels, which is probably one of the most serious social problems in this part of the world. Never has it been more justified to assign Europe the classic name of “the Old Continent”.

It is often said that some countries has been plunged into a worrying demographic winter in Europe of unpredictable social consequences. But is this true or is it a catastrophic vision of depressed minds?

We now have information so that each person individually can draw their own conclusions, after Eurostat data were published last March by the statistical office of the European Union. That is to say, reliable data, conceivably unrelated to any ideological tendency. We shall reproduce some of some of these below.


The fertility rate needed for adequate generational replacement is 2.1 live births per woman when Europe total fertility rate is 1.59 births per woman in 2017, with a constant downward trend. A true demographic winter in Europe


The first statistic that draws our attention is that fewer children were born in Europe in 2017 (5.075 million) than in 2016 (5.148 million), which is a total fertility rate of 1.59 births per woman in 2017, compared to 1.60 in 2016. This decrease has been maintained since 2010, when the fertility rate was 1.62.

Demographic winter in Europe

In view of these figures, it should be remarked that, as a result, Europe does not attain the fertility rate needed for adequate generational replacement, which as we know, is established at 2.1 live births per woman. Thus, policies aimed at raising the birth rate must be promoted, not least of which is the positive regulation of immigration.

By country, the European country with the highest fertility rate is

  • France, with 1.9 births per woman, followed by:
  • Sweden with 1.78, Ireland with 1.77,
  • Denmark with 1.75 and the
  • United Kingdom with 1.74. The rest of the European countries then emerge, until we reach the last carriages of this demographic train, in which:
  • Luxembourg appears with 1.39 births per woman,
  • Portugal and Italy with 1.32,
  • Spain with 1.31 (see HERE our report on the matter)
  • Malta with 1.26.

This imprecedented Global fertility rates declin are a major threat to generational replacement with serious medical, social and economic effectsConsiderations derived from these data

There are many considerations that may be derived from these data, but I shall refer to only some of them.

  1. The first is the highest fertility rate observed in central and northern European countries, compared to the Mediterranean countries; and the other,
  2. The low fertility rates of countries traditionally considered as Catholic, when being open to life is a constant of the Magisterium of the Church. This is undoubtedly a statistic to reflect upon.
  3. Another notable finding is the small number of second children. Thus, 45% of births were first children, 36% were second, and only 19% were third or subsequent children.
  4. The report also highlights how motherhood is being increasingly delayed (read here about Social Freezing trending), as the average age at which a woman had her first child was 28.7 years old in 2013, compared to 29.1 in 2017.

If we look at these figures by country for 2017, and the youngest first-time mothers, the country that tops the list is Bulgaria, in which the mean age of first-time mothers was 26.1 years old, followed by Romania (26.5), Latvia (26.9), Slovakia (27.1), Poland (27.3), Lithuania (27.7) and Estonia (27.7). At the tail end are, in reverse order, Ireland (30.3), Greece (30.4), Luxembourg (30.8), Spain (30.9) and Italy (31.1).

Furthermore, in 2017, 3% of births in Europe were to women aged 40 and over, although the percentage of teenage mothers (under 20 years old) is also noteworthy: 5% in 2017.

The increase in teenage pregnancies

Within this demographic universe, another concerning statistic is the increase in teenage pregnancies (under 20 years old). The top European spot for these types of pregnancies is held by Romania, where 13.9 % of babies were born to teenage mothers; these rates were 13.8 % for Bulgaria, 9.9% for Hungary, 9.5% for Slovakia, 6.7% for Latvia and 6.1% for the United Kingdom. At the lower end appear Sweden with 2.0%, Luxembourg with 1.9%, the Netherlands with 1.7%, Slovenia and Italy with 1.6%, and finally Denmark with 1.5%.

Children born to mothers aged 40 and over

At the opposite end, the percentage of children born to mothers aged 40 and over in 2017 was headed by Spain with 7.4%, followed by Italy with 7.3%, Greece with 5.6%, Luxembourg with 4.9%, Ireland with 4.8% and Portugal with 4.3%.

Another detail to highlight is the percentage of children born in large families, i.e. with more than 3 children. In the European Union as a whole, 81.5% of births were first or second children, while 12.5% were of third children and only 6% were of fourth or subsequent children. Notably, this last figure was 10.3% in Finland, followed by Ireland with 9.0%, the United Kingdom with 8.8%, Slovakia with 8.1% and Belgium with 8.0%.

Conclusion. True demographic winter in Europe

There is no doubt that there are many and very varied conclusions that can be drawn from analysis of these data, but certainly one of the most objective is that Europe is failing to meet generational replacement levels, which is probably one of the most serious social problems in this part of the world. Never has it been more justified to assign Europe the classic name of “the Old Continent”.

This special report is a cornerstone of our Observatory see HERE related articles

Justo Aznar

Bioethics Observatory

Institute of Life Sciences

Catholic University of Valencia

Photo: Fotolia