Monday, May 25, 2009

Is European Fertility Rebounding?

Guest Post by Aslak Berg

In the last decade or so, news coverage of European demography has been distinctly gloomy. Ranging from dire predictions about the rise of Eurabia to perhaps more reasonable economic concerns expressed on this blog and elsewhere about the increasing cost of aging and shrinking populations. However, recently there has actually been a slate of more positive news. An article in the Wilson Quarterly noted with a distinctive sense of relief that European birth rates are increasing while those of the rest of the world, and the Muslim world in particular is falling. Indeed, the most widely cited indicator, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) increased last year to 1.95 in England and Wales, 1.96 in Norway, 1.9 in Sweden and 2.02 in France. Even Germany has experienced a small uptick to around 1.4. Is European fertility rebounding? Well, that depends on how you measure it.

The problem with TFR is that it seems easier to understand than it really is. If the TFR is below the magic rate of 2.1, it seems logical that the population is not replacing itself. Well, that is not necessarily true. (Edward Hugh has of course mentioned this on this blog before but it bears repeating) does not of course measure actual fertility –it is a synthetic measure that essentially sums up all the age-specific rates to get a sense of how many children each woman will have on average if that fertility pattern continues. The problem is that when the fertility pattern is changing –as has been the case in the last few decades in Europe – it does not accurately measure fertility. In particular, when the average age at birth is increasing, TFR will tend to underestimate completed fertility.

To see why that may be the case, I’ll pick my own country, Norway, as an example. In Norway, the TFR dipped below replacement rate in the mid-70’s and hit a low of 1.68 in the early 80’s before rebounding to the 1.8-1.9 range where it stayed until last year when it hit the highest level in 35 years. Yet Norwegian women born in 1960, who lived their entire fertile life in an apparently sub-replacement regime had on average 2.1 children at age 45. In fact, the average cohort fertility –which measures the number of children ever born to women at age 45 has been remarkably stable in Norway for the generations born after the war at around replacement rate. –But you can’t tell by looking at the TFR because the average age at birth has indeed been rising.

What’s been happening over the last few years is not that European women have more children but that the fertility pattern or the average age at birth has stabilized which means that the TFR is now becoming much more accurate in predicting completed fertility. This means that the European countries with a comparatively healthy fertility –a European Fertile Crescent from France through the British Isles to the Nordic countries will have their TFR increase to around replacement rate whereas the rest of Western Europe will have slightly better, but still much too low TFR’s. Incidentally, I predict that much of the difference in TFR between the US and the European Fertile Crescent will prove to be caused by the fact that unlike in Europe, the US average age at birth has remained stable for a very long time –this difference will lead to a differently shaped population pyramid but will not affect the overall size of the population in the long run. The interesting question is why these countries differ from the rest of Europe – a subject which I hope to take a stab at in another posting.


Anonymous said...

The term fertile "crescent" is certainly apt. In the UK, the average Bangladeshi immigrant woman has 5 children (a fact) and the average Pakistani immigrant woman has 4 children (a fact). So, yes, the overall TFR may be 2, but the demographic composition is certainly undergoing radical change. It's disingenous to pretend that all is well because the TFR's in the UK, France, Norway, Sweden, and the other fertile crescent countries are near replacement. In 30 years' time, will it be Oslo or Oslostan?

George said...

"In 30 years' time, will it be Oslo or Oslostan?"

But then again, in 30 years time will we still be worrying about this kind of thing?

Aslak said...

Ah yes, the immigrants, I suppose I should have written something about them.
It's true that generally immigrants contribute to higher fertility rates, more so in Britain than in France or the Nordic countries. Let's look at the UK since it's the case you cite and it's also the country with the largest immigrant population. The Pakistanis and the Bangladeshi do have high fertility rates, but it is falling not rising.
Bangladeshi women in the UK overall now have a TFR of slightly more than 3 and Pakistani women slightly less than 3 and it's still falling. Overall, those two ethnicities contribute less than 4% of total births in England and Wales,a percentage that has ben stable in this decade. The increase in the percentage of births attribuable to immigrants is in fact largely because of European immigration.

As for the White British population, TFR has until recently been in the 1.7-1.8 range. We won't know for sure until the 2011 census but as I argue in the post, the uptick in the TFR in recent years will be largely attribuable to an end to birth postponement in the white population. As for Oslostan, with a Muslim population of 2-3% and the majority of them fairly well integrated, I don't think Norway is about to institute sharia just yet.

Aslak said...

To quote from the UK National Statistics:

"Most of the increase in overall fertility in England and Wales can be attributed to rising fertility among UK born women, who make up the majority of the female population of childbearing age (85 per cent in 2007). According to new estimates, the TFR for women born in the UK has risen substantially, from 1.68 in 2004 to 1.79 in 2007.

In contrast, there has been little change over the past three years in the estimated TFR for women born outside the UK. But foreign-born women living in England and Wales continue to have higher fertility than UK born women in all age groups. In 2007, the estimated TFR for non-UK born women was 2.54 compared with an estimated 1.79 children for women born in the UK. "

In comparison, France and the Nordic countries have higher native fertility and smaller immigrant populations. Overall fertility, however, is healthy all three places.

Anonymous said...

Here's the latest on UK birth stats:

This information belies the numbers you sight for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women. Let's face it, the UK is going to be a very different place in 30 years' time. I'd be alot more sanguine about the future if the growth in TFR's were driven Christian African, Chinese, or Hindu women.

Aslak said...

Ok, now I see where you're coming. However, that article is actually very misleading. The birth statistics quoted in it are the most recent ones. However, the fertility rates are not, as just reading the article would suggest, from 2008. Rather they're from the 2001 census. (You can find their source here: in table 9.5)

The future of the UK is vastly more diverse than its past but it is not a predominantly Muslim or South Asian one.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it will diverse, although there will be a significant Muslim component. This is a great social experiment, the outcome of which is unclear. Will Muslims integrate smoothly or not? That's the great question about what will eventually become non-Russian Europe's most populous country?

Aslak said...

That I agree with. How Britain and Europe handles immigration and social policy along with the general economic climate will be crucial.

I tend to be on the optimistic side but a lot depends on jobs. For instance, I take the somewhat contrarian view that France would have been a model of succesful integration if it had been able to provide to its immigrants and their descendants.

Anonymous said...

France is an interesting case, because the situation differs from place to place. Marseille is probably a model, where the communities seem to be able to get along and work together, although I don't live there so I can't say for sure. We all know about Paris, of course.

Ape Man said...

How you look at the data depends a lot whether you have an optimistic bent or a pessimistic bent.

I will freely admit that I have a pessimistic bent. So I suppose I should try to discount that when examining data. Though in my defense, studies have shown that mildly depressed people are more realistic in their assessments then "normal" people.

Anyway, if you look at the data from a pessimistic perspective, one cannot deny that some countries in Europe are better off then others demographically speaking. However, any sigh of relief over rising TFR's is very premature. The last few years is unlikely to provide reliable guide to the direction that TFR rates will be taking in the future.

As I am sure you will agree, there are basically two factors that govern how many children a woman will have. The first is cultural values and the second is economic conditions.

Both of these factors are likely to put downward pressure on TFR rates in the coming years.

In cultural terms, the younger generations (my age) seem to have different view of the ideal number of children then there parents. That is to say, woman born in the 60s and 70s had a vision of the ideal family as having 2 or more children. They just choose to realize that ideal at a later date then their parents. However, there is evidence to suggest that their daughters don't share their view. Increasing numbers of them are saying that they want no children or at most one.

Furthermore, the postponement of births is not an entirely benign phenomenon from the demographic point of view. The longer a woman waits, the more likely it is that she will not be able to have children when she wants them. If a woman spends her twenties getting her degree and establishing her career only to be laid off in an economic contraction she might not get back on her feet in time to have children. Thus, if we had sup par economic activity for 5 years or so, a lot potential births might never happen.

And that brings me to my last point. The last 20 years have seen unprecedented economic stability in the western economies. Sure, there have been recessions and such, but nothing like what happened in the 20 year prior to 1988. I think that the relative economic stability since 1988 has been a big factor in helping the TFR to stabilize and even recover.

But to presume that the 20 years after 1988 are the norm for the future is a very risky bet. In America, demographic realities alone argue that the next 20 years will not be nearly as economically stable as the last 20 years. Never mind the many other things that could keep the next 20 years from being as stable and the last 20.

Thus, I don't expect TFR in the next 20 years to be as high as it was during the last 20 years. And I think the same thing will hold true for Europe.

Well, that is a token pessimistic argument that does not rely on the "all the new babies are Islamic argument." Take it for what it is worth.

Unknown said...

@ape man, i think you summed it up pretty well. especially the the decreased fertility in postponed age, is I think a significant problem.

Here in Croatia (where I live), to go to college is becoming the norm. One might think it's a good thing (to have a higher average level of education in the country), but it also makes the diploma you earn less competitive, because now there will be more and more competitors with diploma for the same amount of such positions. So in order to further increase your competitiveness young boys and especially girls (as they tend to be more eager in learning), in their mid 20ties are now prolonging their education with additional courses, specialization, state-certifications, and so on... which leads us to the reality that a young man is, before he has even tried to find a full time job, is already in it's 30thies. (I personally am full time employed since my 20th).

Anonymous said...

an important factor and not mentioned in this article is the number of 1st generation immigrants and especially muslim immigrants.
In the Netherlands the number of so called "import brides" rose by 30% in 2008 compared to 2007. These 1st generation muslim woman are known to have a TFR of 3 or more. When some 10000 muslimwoman arrive as bride annum in The Netherlands they will add significantly to the total TFR of the country. Therefore to say something relevant on TFR and demograhpy one has to distinguish between subcultures and etnic or religious groups. Again the Netherlands as an example. Also orthodox protestants have a TFR of about 3

Anonymous said...

In Britain, a woman under 18 (or even 21) getting a child when she is still in school or leaving with her paretns will get housing and social benefits.
I don't know the details and the background of the program but it must explain the many "teen single mums"I find in Britain and not in The Netherlands are Germany even.

In Germany the TFR is low. They prefer a "Cabrio" to a "kind"
and moreover, a woman has to choose between children or career.
Germans dont even have a proper daycare system like the Nordics.
Britain doesnt have that too but they just give the mother a house and some cash and she will be a loosy mother but the country appears to have a nice TFR

PS: with 700,000 births in Britain some 30,000 more babies were born than in Germany the same year!

The last German....born in 2150 or so?

Graydon said...

"The last German....born in 2150 or so?"

Total BS. I've had an engineering posting in Germany for the past 3 years, and their demographics is probably much better than most of their peers. Their family minister (Ursula von der Leyen) has 7 kids herself and she has, in fact, introduced a Sweden-style day-care system in Germany that's boosted the native German birth rate to increasing levels. (FWIW Germany's Turkish birth rate is actually LOWER than that of many of the other Euro immigrant groups in Germany, such as Greeks and Italians.)

Speaking of immigrants, Germany is the biggest recipient in Europe by far, and no, they're largely not Turks-- Germany has a skills-based immigration system with extra preference for those with German ancestry (a very blurred category admittedly). So, Germany has taken in many millions of mostly European, high-skilled immigrants over the past decade alone, or German-descended Diaspora in North/South America and Australia. Germany's Polish and Czech populations are so large now (and still fast-growing), that the borders were effectively collapsing even before EU enlargement in 2004.

And yes, those millions of Poles, Czechs, Russians and other Eastern Europeans may not be ticked as "German" on the entry forms, but there's so much mixing of the groups over the past few centuries that it's tough to tell them apart to begin with, and they integrate very, very quickly into German society. My best friend from Minneapolis (also posted to Hamburg with me) wound up settling down and marrying a Czech beauty, and he's now on the way to German citizenship himself, raising 2 kids there. A Norwegian-American with a Czech wife, raising German kids. Such is modern Germany-- don't worry, they'll be just fine.

I also think France will be OK. I slipped across into Lorraine and thence into Paris and the Riviera towns whenever I could, and while the place has problems with integration, the birth rate of the Moroccans/Algerians is if anything slipping lower than that of the native French. Many of the kids are born out of wedlock (and don't grow up Muslim), and besides, Sarkozy's gone so deportation-happy that France (along with Holland) is having a fast-declining Muslim population.

One Euro country that WON'T be fine, I suspect, is Britain. For some reason, Britain's Muslims actually do maintain a much higher birth rate than the native white British population (4-5 TFRs for the South Asians and Somalis for example), unlike Turks and Moroccans where it tends to dive down. And because of the Commonwealth, Britain's immigration is chiefly from its former colonies in Africa and South Asia, so the process is amplifying itself.

Ditto for Australia and Canada. And no need to bring up Russia-- they truly are shrinking.

IOW, it's a mixed bag for the West. Most countries (esp. Germany and yes, also France) are doing fine. OTOH Britain, Russia and the Aussies among others, will experience major ethnic change.

Anonymous said...

Germany has one of the lowest TFR rates. FACT! The policies of Ursual von der Leyen do not work. FACT!
She didn't suggest a Swedish structure nor is that implemented. German or more than elsewhere simply not ready to invest in children. I am working now 15 years with Germans. It is schocking to find so few academics with Children in my work when I compare to Scandinavia, Netherlands or France.

Herunder some links that give you an idea on the demographic problem called Germany.

Anonymous said...

Graydon, why don't you stick to verifyable facts instead of "what you think"by travelling europe.
My god. In HOlland there is not "deportation"policy and the muslim population is growing. In 2008 the number of muslim importbrides went upwith 30%. The national state buro for statistics can simply inform you that 100% of the populationgrowth in the Netherlands (Holland is actually just a part of the country) comes from non-native Dutch

Karl Heinz said...

WIESBADEN – As reported by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on the basis of provisional results, the number of live births in Germany in 2008 (675,000 children) was slightly down by 1.1% on the previous year (683,000).

The provisional annual result is below the estimate of about 680,000 to 690,000 births, which had been calculated by Destatis at the beginning of this year on the basis of data available at the time (press release of 7 January 2009). The reason is the slower development of births in the last few months of 2008, which can be observed now.

WIESBADEN – According to an estimate of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), the number of inhabitants of Germany probably decreased again in 2008 on the previous year. Compared with the end of 2007, a decrease by about 0.2% is expected (82.06 million compared with 82.22 million). The population of Germanyhas been decreasing since 2003. The decline in 2008 will probably be somewhat larger than in the previous years.

WIESBADEN – As reported by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), the average number of children per woman in Germanywas 1.37 in 2007, up from 1.33 in 2006. This was the first rise since 2004. 2000 was the last year in which the average number of children per woman was higher (1.38). In 2007, some 685,000 children were born, about 12,000 more than in 2006.
As in past years, the average number of births by younger women continued to decline in 2007, while it rose for women in their late twenties or older. Even in comparison to earlier years, a particularly strong increase was observed in 2007 for women aged from about 33 to 37.

WIESBADEN – As reported by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on the basis of provisional results, 683,000 persons in-migrated to Germany in 2007 and 635,000 persons out-migrated. This results in net inward migration of 48,000 persons. That was 21,000 in-migrations more and 4,000 out-migrations less than in 2006. Hence net inward migration more than doubled compared to the previous year. In 2006, it recorded a 71% decline on 2005.

Anonymous said...

in Bulgaria total tfr rose from 1.09 to 1.48 for 8 years. The tfr for bulgarians (85%) rose from 0.9 to 1.4. The tfr for Turks (8%) falls from 2.2 to 1.6. The gypsy birth rate fall from 4 to 2.6. So Im optimistic for my country. They say that in 40 years TFRs will equalise and bulgarians will be around 72 %.

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