The European Middle Way? Low Fertility, Family Change, and Gradual Policy Adjustments in Austria and the Czech Republic

  • Tomáš SobotkaEmail author


This chapter provides a comparative analysis of fertility and family transformations and policy responses in Austria and the Czech Republic, two neighboring countries in Central Europe that were until 1989 separated by the “Iron Curtain” dividing the two competing political blocs in Europe. The comparison is stimulated by the geographic proximity and shared history and culture of these two countries in the past and their gradual economic and social convergence in the most recent quarter century. During this recent period, both societies became surprisingly similar in their fertility and family patterns and main family policy trends. Fertility in both countries is relatively low, but not extremely low when compared with the countries of Southern Europe or East Asia. The period total fertility rate recently converged to 1.5 births per woman, and cohort fertility rates for the women born in the mid-1970s are projected at 1.65 (Austria) and 1.8 (Czech Republic) births per woman. Austrian fertility rates have been remarkably stable since the 1980s, while in the Czech Republic fertility imploded during the 1990s, following the political regime change, and then partly recovered in the 2000s. In both countries, childbearing has rapidly shifted to later ages and increasingly has taken place outside marriage, with more than one-half of first births now born to cohabiting couples and single mothers. Czech women are much less likely to remain childless, possibly due to the persistently strong normative support to parenthood in the country. Family policies, relatively generous in terms of government expenditures, were until recently dominated by a view that mothers should stay at home for an extended period with their children, making the return to employment difficult for women. The combination of extensive parental leave, negative attitudes toward working mothers with children below age three, limited availability of public childcare for these children, and in the Czech Republic, limited availability of part-time employment affects childbearing decisions, especially among highly educated women. Recent policy adjustments have made parental leave more flexible in both countries and, in the case of Austria, have supported a gradual expansion of public childcare and a stronger involvement of men in childrearing.


Fertility Low fertility Family Family policies Czech Republic Austria 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human CapitalVienna Institute of Demography (Austrian Academy of Sciences)ViennaAustria

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