Childlessness in Europe: Contexts, Causes, and Consequences

Part of the series Demographic Research Monographs pp 17-53

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Childlessness in Europe: Reconstructing Long-Term Trends Among Women Born in 1900–1972

  • Tomáš SobotkaAffiliated withVienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences and Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital Email author 


This study combines census, survey, and vital statistics data to reconstruct childlessness trends among women born between 1900 and 1972 in 30 European countries. After discussing the available sources, their strengths and weaknesses, and the selection of data used in this article, I present childlessness trends in individual countries and broader European regions, and analyse between-country variability. Europe has experienced a U-shaped pattern in permanent childlessness among women born between 1900 and 1972, with the lowest levels typically reached among the 1940s cohorts. A clear contrast exists between the generally low levels of childlessness in the former state-socialist countries of Europe and the higher levels of childlessness in other regions. However, as childlessness in central and eastern Europe has increased among women born in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this long-standing divide is now eroding. The trend towards increasing childlessness is levelling off in much of western Europe (e.g., in Switzerland and England and Wales). In conclusion, I suggest that women in southern Europe, especially in Italy and Spain, are on track to have the highest levels of childlessness in Europe. I also argue that childlessness trends might become more unstable and more difficult to predict as many women have put off parenthood until late reproductive ages, when they have relatively little time left to have a child.


Childlessness Fertility Europe Central and Eastern Europe Twentieth century