Realities of the Childfree Cultural Shift in the EU

The world population is expected to reach 7 billion later this year.  While lots of experts disagree about whether we have surpassed the point of being able to sustain the ever growing population, there are others who are more concerned about population decrease. How can that be?  Check out the analysis by Harvard professor Robert Barro and others. He predicts a “grim future”  for much of continental Europe because …

…of its population decline.  According to Rory Fitzgerald, writer for, “a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman will keep a society stable.”  And..”low fertility rates of Korea (1.1), Singapore (1.2) Germany (1.3), Poland (1.3), Italy (1.4), Spain (1.4) and Russia (1.4), more or less dooms these countries to aging crises and population decline.”

Demographer Peter McDonald estimates that if Italy’s recent fertility levels remain as they are, barring mass immigration, it will lose 86 % of its population by the end of this century. Similarly, he estimates Spain’s population will drop by 85%, Germany 83% and Greece 74%.

Declining populations will affect these countries’ economy powers, and will lead to what demographer Dr. Wolfgang Lutz of the Vienna Institute of Demography calls a “low fertility trap” – “a sort of death spiral where a nation tips over a demographic cliff, never to recover.”  Fitzgerald notes that those who believe in this demographic peril say that “no society has ever recovered from a sustained birth rate of under 1.5 children per woman.”

Despite a potential demographic demise, there remains the upward trend of the numbers of people not having any children. For example, in Italy, the International Center for Family Studies found that 57.8 percent of childless Italian households said they had no children out of “personal choice.” People’s reasons include a “sense of uncertainty about the future and the difficulties involved in raising children.”

Some fear a cultural shift to more of an accepted attitude about childlessness and families with one or no children, “thereby institutionalising the trend of low birth rates.”  The shift is showing itself in Germany–30% young women say they don’t intend to have children at all.  And many German men–48% under 40, agree that you can have a happy life without children.

As far as cultural shift to more acceptance of having no children by choice in particular, I say bring it on. Inside the concerns about population demise lurks the pronatalist assumption that has to do with our responsibility to bring the next generation into the world–to continue the “species”  as it were, and in this case, from a nationalistic perspective.

While I understand a country being concerned about demographic changes to its population, it is not more important for people to reproduce “for” their country than for them to do what is best for them and their personal lives in that country.

What do you think? What are citizens’ “duties” to their country if seems to be on the road to “demographic collapse”?


16 thoughts on “Realities of the Childfree Cultural Shift in the EU

  1. These arguments concerns are absurd

    1. What is at stake here is a decline in indigenous population, most European countries are concerned about the decline in birthrates yet also about an increase immigration- is it the decline in white birthrates that is the problem?

    2. If the population does decline it would in a few generations it would go back to what it was in the fifties in Europe – how is this a problem?

    3. if the population is to increase so that we can continuously support the elderly – what we really are doing is running demographic ponzi scheme

    1. I also understand it in part as a concern about declines in”full blooded” folks in the countries, and not wantimg immigration. Agree that if it went to #s from the 50s that is not a problem, but can be different if the # of elderly is much higher than in the 50s, and the economy is not good (in part because of high numbers of those who no longer work) , or there is lack of social structure and government support for the elderly…

  2. My duty to my country and to my ancestors who came before me is to live the happiest life I possibly can and to be a productive citizen for as long as I possibly can.

    1. 20 something–nicely said…I don’t feel any responsibility to ensure the continuation of my lineage, but society sure tells us we should~

  3. Coraline – I just had a major “a-ha!” moment there. Indeed, seems like procreation is just one giant pyramid scheme, and the last ones in line are doomed…

    But I agree with Laura that decreasing the population now would not really be like going back to the 50’s, and potentially this is going to create a big problem of elderly people who will end their lives miserably.

    1. I just read an article about Italy’s total economic distress–no wonder a lot of people there don’t want kids because of the financial burden. The lower birthrates sure seem to in part point to larger economic problems. Having more children is not the solution!

  4. I think the root of this argument lies in the belief that an economy must continue growing in order to be healthy, whereas from a sustainability perspective, bigger economy = more resources = more disruption to ecosystems (and ultimately, a planet that has a reduced ability to support life). If we could switch to a more sustainable economic model (slow or zero growth), I wonder if these dire predictions about a shrinking population would also die down.

    1. Jennifer, interesting take. Maybe if a sustainable model was more widely accepted people would be more comfortable with declining populations. I wager, however, they would be more comfortable with this in other countries besides their own ; ) There is also still the pronatal lineage responsibility thing to squash as well…we’re supposed to “carry on the family name” stuff…~L
      PS. Love your more recent post on your blog! So with you on the point that most Cf’ers don’t make this choice because it is a green choice (although I have interviewed some couples who would say this is true for them actually–it is a minority to be sure); first and foremost they choose it because they don’t want to be parents! ~L

  5. From the blogs i read and other sources, there are a LOT of families who have 3, 4, 5, 6 or more children. One of my sisters has 6. The other sis and i have none at all. The idea that every woman has to reproduce is ridiculous! It is a GOOD thing that so many women have none or one child, because there are quite a few having large broods.

    I’m not running down big families. Some folks are very well equipped to do that. Others are not equipped to have even one or two, as evidenced by the number of children in foster care. I suppose they are averaging in these large families when they do the numbers, but i don’t think there is the cause for concern so many dooms-day folks seem to think.

    I recently read that a large number of women to the age of 44 do not have children. I did a count recently (of women i know personally, not on-line friends) and came up with 27 i know who do not have children. About 3 or 4 of these are not yet 40, but still, that is a substantial number.

    1. Indeed there are lots of families with lots of children all around the world. What I have seen re the numberof women who do not have children the age range is 15-44; a very wide range! I like to look at the ages 40-44 or over — at that point it is more than likely they will not be having children. However, Pew Research’s #s from 2008 I believe indicate a slight decrease in percentage of women with no children in thei age range. This could be related to how women are having children later…~L

  6. Thank you for such an excellent article. Seems like those most concerned about decreasing populations ignore the caveat of current trends continuing, but we don’t necessarily know that will happen. A great book on this subject is More: Population, Nature, and what Women Want by Robert Engelman. The author points out we can’t count on a strong economy being upheld by a high birth rate. Personally, I don’t believe declining population is a problem at all. As far as care of the elderly goes, it seems like that will always be an issue in countries where people are long-lived, no matter what the birthrate.

    1. Molly, Thanks for the rec to the book, More. I read some reviews and looks very good! I like the quote in one of them that says essentially that women all over don’t want to have more kids, they want more For the kids they do have, and do want smaller families. This too is a good quote from a review : “Whether society supports women to have children when and only when they choose to will not only shape their lives, but the world all our children will inherit.” BUT it would be better if the word “if” was included to more clearly state support for not having children at all……~L

  7. If you want to watch a movie “without disruption,” RENT IT and watch it AT HOME. Public is public; age discrimination is age discrimination.

  8. What does watching a movie have to do with the childfree cultural shift in the EU?
    Children are not a disenfranchised group, especially America. In fact, they are put upon a pedestal while offering little to nothing to society. Making them sound like a disenfranchised group (age discrimination! OMG!) only does harm to those who are REALLY affected by age discrimination.
    If I want to watch a movie, I’ll do so where I want. Often, children don’t care if they go to the theater or not; they just want moving pictures on a screen. I present this: to show that you have empathy for others, Kalima Sara, why can’t YOU rent a movie, and watch it at home with your kids? Yes, public is public – but pulling out the ‘age discrimination’ card for kids, especially in America (where people feel they have the right to take their kids anywhere and everywhere, appropriate or not)is ludicrous. I request kindly that you go troll somewhere else.

  9. Politicians in Finland are raising retirement ages because they fear that there won’t be enough people to support the elderly. The baby boom generation which was born right after the World War II is about to retire. Despite that it is very difficult to get a job, especially if you are a woman and in your thirties. It’s illegal to lay off a person who is on maternity/paternity leave. Mostly women take those leaves and those leaves are LONG here.

    I just got my master’s degree and I am a bit over 30 years old. I also have a vocational degree and job experience. But people just won’t hire me because they think that all women must want children.

    1. Wow. I thought Finland was one of more progressive countries… I suppose however, they look at the numbers and more women than not have children, and given the law, they may not want the expense of long maternity/paternity leave. Not a set up that works overall, clearly, given your situation. Thanks for the insight into your country.

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