Fertility Rates and Population Decline: No Time for Children?

EU–(ENEWSPF)–29 April 2013. On May 15: A new book which explores the far reaching implications of the dramatic decline in fertility rates across the world will be launched at the European Parliament. The book, entitled ‘Fertility rates and population decline: No time for children?, includes the latest research from leading international academics whose converging views suggest that the world population is set to decline by 2050. Serious consequences could include slower economic growth, labour shortages, reduced consumption and considerable pressure on women to fill the gaps in the labour market alongside caring for their children and elderly relatives, says the research.

Today’s children will be tomorrow’s workforce and therefore maximising every child’s potential to contribute to society will become increasingly important, warns the book. Its co-editors are Professor Ann Buchanan, former Director for the Centre for Research into Parenting and Children at the University of Oxford, and Professor Anna Rotkirch, Director of the Population Research Centre, Väestöliitto, Finland.

Research in European countries shows that current family policies are having ‘very little effect’ on reversing the decline in birth rates and the increase in childlessness. The book concludes that in future, families may need far more assistance to reconcile work and family life.

Other main findings of the book:

  • The world is shifting to a two-child family model. Global fertility rates are unlikely to increase; and in regions such as Africa and South America, they will continue to fall dramatically this century.
  • Fertility in East Asia is now the lowest in the world: total fertility rates (the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime) are currently between 1.1 and 1.3 in Japan, South Korea and Singapore. In European countries (Germany, Austria and Italy), total fertility rates are at around 1.4 and only some countries come close to population replacement level of 2.1.
  • There is also a trend for an increasing proportion of women and men to remain childless globally. The proportion of women remaining childless rose substantially from about one in eight in the UK just after the Second World War to one in five for those born around 1970.
  • In China, although some families are now allowed two children, the one-child family appears to have rooted itself as a social norm.
  • By the middle of the 21st century, the proportion of people under the age of 25 will have fallen to less than 20 per cent. Correspondingly, the proportion over the age of 60 will have increased to one-fifth.
  • Most children benefit from being in smaller families as this is associated with less poverty. However, many children today remain in exceptionally difficult circumstances: for example, street children and children in state care.
  • A lower fertility rate may mean an increased preference for male babies in some countries, sex-selective abortions, and a high mortality rate for girls. In some countries there are already concerns about grossly uneven gender balances.

In the final chapter, the co-editors Buchanan and Rotkirch conclude: ‘Set against this backdrop of a declining population, we envisage increasing pressures on working mothers and on children. Currently, across OECD countries, six out of ten mothers with children under the age of 16 are in paid work. Since more mothers will start working to fill the labour shortages, a broad range of policies promoting gender equality and reconciling family and work, as well as high quality early childhood education will be important. Policies will also be needed to provide more help for men and women who want to have children as well as policies for promoting the well-being of all children, particularly those who are currently disadvantaged so they can contribute to an increasingly complex world.’

The book will be launched on May 15 at the European Parliament by COFACE, the Confederation of Family Organisations in Europe.


  • Fertility rates and population decline: No time for children? is published by Palgrave Macmillan. Copies of the book are available on request.

    For further information, see:  http://us.macmillan.com/fertilityratesandpopulationdecline/AnnBuchanan

  • Further details about the launch:  http://www.coface-eu.org/en/
  • Professor Ann Buchanan is currently Senior Research Associate in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Oxford University. Formerly, she was Director of the Centre for Research into Parenting and Children at Oxford University. For the last 19 years, she has been central to research on child and family well being through her studies on parenting, fathering, divorce and grand-parenting, children in state care, and children at risk of social exclusion. She is a frequent contributor to all-party discussions on family policy.  In 2009, she was invited to talk to the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit on ‘Preparing children for the 21st century’.  She has been a regular visitor to China at the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Social Science. She became an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2009 and appointed to their Council in 2012.  She was awarded an MBE for services to social science in 2012.
  • Professor Anna Rotkirch is Research Professor and Director of the Population Research Institute, Väestöliitto – Finnish Family Federation. She has conducted comparative research in Europe on families, sexuality and childbearing behaviour. She has co-authored or edited ten books, including Living Through Soviet Russia for Routledge, and Women’s Voices in Russia Today for Dartmouth publishers. Rotkirch’s work has appeared in nine languages.  Her current research focuses on contemporary fertility and childlessness and the popular phenomenon of “baby lust”. During the academic year of 2010-11, she was a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Population Research, based in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford.

Source: ox.ac.uk