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Genus. 1984 Jan-Jun;40(1-2):19-46.

Cohort fertility in Western Europe: comparing fertility trends in recent birth cohorts.



A comparative study of fertility levels among cohorts of women born in 1940, 1945, 1950, 1955, and 1960 in 16 European countries was undertaken using vital statistics data. The average number of live birth/woman for each of the 5 cohorts by age 20, 25, 30, and 35 was computed by cumulating age-specific fertility rates of women born in specific years. Median age at childbirth and completed fertility were estimated for the 3 oldest cohorts (1940, 1945, and 1950). 2 estimations of completed fertility were made. 1 was based on the assumption of a constant age-specific fertility rate, and the other was based on a relational Gompertz model. Where possible cohort fertility was disaggregated by birth order. Since the data for the countries was not fully comparable, it was not possible to use sophisticated analytical techniques. Other limits of the study were that fertility, especially for the more recent cohorts was incomplete, parity specific data was not available for all the countries, and open cohorts rather than closed cohorts were used. The analysis indicated that completed cohort fertility was lower for the 1950 cohort than for the 1940 cohort in all 16 countries. For the 1940 cohort, only Germany's estimated completed fertility was less than 2.00. For the other 15 countries, estimated completed fertility ranged from 2.04 (Finland) to 3.36 (Ireland). For the 1950 cohort, estimated completed fertility was less than 2.00 in 8 of the countries. Estimated completed fertility was lowest in Finland and Switzerland (1.82) and highest in Ireland (3.33). No marked increase in childlessness was observed, and for the 1940 and 1950 cohorts, childlessness did not exceed 20% in any of the countries and was considerably less than 20% in most of the countries. There was a trend toward delayed childbearing in most of the countries. An examination of available parity data for the 1940 and 1950 cohorts lead to the conclusion that the major factor contributing toward the decline in fertility was a decline in 3rd and higher order births. Most countries showed a decline in higher order births, and in some countries the decline was marked. The proportion of 1-child families increased in many countries and was especially high in Germany. The fertility decline may be leveling off in some of the countries. Fertility will probably stablize at a low level in most of the countries. The decline in fertility is due not only to increased contraceptive use but to the growing trend toward secular individualism in European society. The similarities in the fertility declines in all the countries indicates that identical cross national causes are influencing fertility behavior. The 16 countries included iln the study were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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