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Economic recession and first births in Europe: recession-induced postponement and recuperation of fertility in 14 European countries between 1970 and 2005



The economic crisis that emerged after 2008 caused speculation about further postponement of fertility and a recession-induced baby-bust in countries affected by the economic downturn. This paper aims to disentangle short-term and long-term effects of economic context on entry into parenthood and explores variation of postponement and recuperation by age, gender, educational level and welfare state context.


Random-effects complementary log–log models including macro-level indicators are used to analyse longitudinal microdata on 12,121 first births to 20,736 individuals observed between 1970 and 2005.


Adverse economic conditions and high unemployment significantly reduce first birth hazards among men and women below age 30, particularly among the higher educated. After age 30 economic context continues to affect first birth hazards of men, but not for women. Recuperation of fertility is further associated with access to labour markets and entry into cohabiting unions.


The continuing postponement of first births has clear medical consequences and implications for health policies. Preventive policies should take access to labour markets for younger generations into account as an important factor driving postponement.

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  1. The model including education and the macro-level unemployment rate constitutes a highly significant improvement over the null model, both for men (Δ−2LL = 26,084.42 − 25,790.86 = 293.56 with Δdf = 22 − 18 = 4, p < 0.001) and women (Δ−2LL = 36,348.90 − 35,579.40 = 769.5 with Δdf = 22 − 18 = 4, p < 0.001).


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Correspondence to Karel Neels.

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This article is part of the special issue "Life course influences on health and health inequalities: moving towards a Public Health perspective".



See Table 5 as appendix table.

Table 5 Distribution of person-years by individual-level time-constant and time-varying covariates, women and men aged 15–49, 1970–2005

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Neels, K., Theunynck, Z. & Wood, J. Economic recession and first births in Europe: recession-induced postponement and recuperation of fertility in 14 European countries between 1970 and 2005. Int J Public Health 58, 43–55 (2013).

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  • First births
  • Recession
  • Late fertility
  • Unemployment
  • Education
  • Union formation