Two Belgian cities have the highest birth rates per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU

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Nowadays, low mortality levels are recorded all across Europe. In other words, there is high life expectancy at birth, which is estimated at 79,1 (2020) and when compared with 1950’s records, the life expectancy has increased for almost 20%. As a result, the Old Continent is facing “Ageing of Europe”, a demographic phenomenon characterised by decrease in fertility and mortality rates, accompanied by a higher life expectancy.

 

Fertility statistics in Europe

 

Looking back at the fertility statistics in Europe, those steadily declined in all the EU member states from the mid-1960s by the end of the last century. To be more precise, the highest annual total for the number of live births in the EU was recorded in 1964, at 6.797 million. At the beginning of the 2000s, there were signs of total fertility rate rise, but the development stopped in 2010, says Eurostat.

There was another slight increase in 2016, however the fertility rate has been decreasing since then. In 2019, the number of live births across the European Union was 4.167 million, corresponding to a crude birth rate of 9,3 (the number of live births per 1,000 persons), states Eurostat. The crude birth rate for the year 2000 was 10,5, while for 1985, it was 16,4. In other words, it is a decrease of 43,3% when comparing the years 1985 and 2019.

What led to this significant decrease? Which are the biggest changes that Europe is facing with when talking about birth rate?

 

First the career, then the family

 

Firstly, it is because more and more women choose to pursue their careers prior to starting a family. Another reason is that the average age at first marriage has increased: now, the youngest average age at marriage in Europe is in North Macedonia (26,5 years), while in Sweden, the average age is over 34 years for both men and women. In 1980s, the average age for marriage was 22 years.

Also, the overall mean age of women at childbirth keeps on rising. When comparing a period of time of six years, the age value has risen for 0,6 years: in 2013, women were having the first child at 28,8 years in average, while in 2018, the average age was 29,4. According to Eurostat, the fertility rate of women aged 25-29 years old was highest among all the age groups in 2001. In 2019, the fertility rate of women aged 30-34 became the highest. Furthermore, the fertility rate at ages higher than 35 is also on the rise.

Another very important reason for the fertility rate decrease is the widespead sex education availability and the awareness regarding contraception and consequences of unplanned pregnancies.

 

Fertility rates throughout the EU

 

According to the UN, two-thirds of countries in Europe have introduced measures to increase fertility rates, from baby bonuses and tax incentives to paid parental leave, with varying degrees of success.

In 2019, France had the highest total fertility rate (1,86 live births per woman). France was followed by Romania (1,77) and Ireland, Sweden and Czech Republic (1,71).

Therefore, it comes with no surprise that French pro natalist regulations are among the most generous ones in Europe. French government provides many different policies that encourage women to have more children, such as monthly cash incentive, public transport discounts, income tax reductions, fantastic paid parental leave, government-subsidised daycare and many other benefits.

 

Highest birth rates in large EU cities

 

In 2019, Eurostat conducted a survey across European Union in order to detect which cities have the highest birth rate per 1,000 inhabitants. When taking into account large cities with over 500,000 inhabitants (a total of 47 EU cities participated in the survey), the first two places are reserved for Belgian cities. Antwerp has the birth rate of 13,80 per 1,000 inhabitants, while Brussels made a score of 13,75, which placed it on the second place.

Apart from France, Belgium is also known for great pro-natal policies. Besides financial packages, Belgian high-quality daycare is widely available and accessible and it starts right after the parental leave finishes. Although the Belgian parental leave is a bit shorter than average, it is better paid and is available for both parents.

According to the OECD data, the proportion of men among parental leave recipients slightly exceeds 30% in Belgium.

Furthermore, in 2019 in Belgium, around one third of children were born to foreign-born mothers and two thirds were born to native-born mothers (the highest share of children from foreign-born mothers has Luxembourg with more than 65%).

The third place for highest birth rate per 1,000 inhabitants is reserved for Vilnius (12,21). According to Statistics Lithuania, around 25,000 babies were born in the country last year, which is the lowest number since 1999, but approximately 70% of the babies were born in Vilnius and Kaunas.

Furthermore, Eurostat Fertility Statistics states that Lithuania has a higher total fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime) than the EU average and the country is trying to improve workplace conditions for working parents.

The 4th, 5th, 8th and 10th places are reserved for German cities: Frankfurt (12,11) and Munich (12,04), Leipzig (11,49) and Hamburg (11,47).

Germany keeps on tackling the demographic deficit thanks to policies such as raising the parental leave allowance to two-thirds of income for the first year, providing the legal right to a nursery place when the child turns one year old and the opportunity for parents to work part-time and still receive child allowances.

At the 6th and 9th places are Dutch cities: Greater Amsterdam (11,90) and The Hague (11,49).

Generous Dutch government welfare policies and strong and widely accepted cultural norms that support women’s roles as mothers are some of the reasons for this fantastic result.

Also, Netherlands offers generous government mortgage and co-financing policies which are allowing the Dutch people to buy their homes or qualify for affordable public housing, which is an important predisposition for starting a family. The country also fully pays the maternity leave.

Lisbon has seventh highest birth rate per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU (11,68). According to Euro Health Consumer Index, Portugal has the 13th best healthcare system in Europe, which is certainly a very important factor when talking about child rate. The country offers many childcare benefits and maternity care under the Portuguese healthcare system and social security system.

In Portugal, new mothers are entitled to maternity leave at 100% of their pay for 120 consecutive days and they can take up to 30 of these days before the baby’s birth. At least six weeks must be taken after the birth, but the overall leave can also be extended.

Other child benefits in Portugal include a family allowance for children and young people up to 16 years old, maternity and paternity benefits, adoption grant benefits for the care of ill and/or disabled children, benefits for particular risks during pregnancy, etc.

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Creating an overall family-friendly culture throughout EU is the key 

 

To sum up, many European countries take the problem of population decrease very seriously and are working hard on encouraging more births and ensuring additional benefits for the future parents.

Although generous pro-natalist arrangements are very desirable (such as financial support and daycare options and child benefits), those are not the solution for a significant raise of the fertility level.

All of these benefits should be just one part of a complete family-friendly culture developed by all the countries. There are many countries which are already working on this and, hopefully, all the other ones will follow the lead. (photo credit: Freepik)