The number of births as a proportion of the population has been declining in Europe since the late 19th century. In the past decade, fertility rates reached very low levels in many Member States (MS) of the European Union (EU), well below replacement levels. Low rates imply that, without migration or increased longevity, European populations will shrink.
Smaller populations may bring benefits in reducing the consumption of natural resources and society’s impact on the environment. However a society with fewer younger workers and a larger proportion of older people poses problems for economic growth and the maintenance of current social welfare systems such as pensions and healthcare. Many EU MS have policies in place that promote fertility and help people achieve the number of children that they desire.
Policy options include family-oriented policies such as financial transfers and tax breaks for parents with children, child-related leave and provision of childcare. They can also extend to a variety of measures that help with gender equality, reconciliation of work and family life or finding affordable housing. While experts generally feel that family-oriented measures can encourage women to have more children, these policies are costly and their effect on fertility may in some cases be unclear or weak.