RESEARCH from the European Commission shows people across the union are postponing or even putting off childrearing altogether as they cope with the economic downturn.
The latest evidence suggests a strong correlation between the recession and falling European birth rates that is true even in Ireland – though we still have the highest fertility levels in the EU.
In Ireland the fertility rate – the average amount of children born per woman – stood at 2.1 children in 2008; it was 2.05 in 2011.
The same trend is seen across Europe.
It suggests the economic downturn is having a direct effect on individual incomes and the immediate ability to support children.
But recessions also generate long-lasting economic uncertainty that can have deep ramifications for long-term family planning.
The latest data suggests a real link between falling GDP (annual economic output) and Europe's falling birth rates between 2008 and 2011.
The total fertility rate – the average amount of children born per woman – of Europe's 31 countries rose in 2008, when the effects of the recession had just begun to take hold, but has fallen ever since.
In 2008 no country had fewer than 1.3 live births per woman, still a low figure by international standards. By 2011, Hungary, Poland and Romania had all fallen below this figure.
A birth rate of at least 2.1 children per woman is generally required to sustain the population of a developed country so a fall below 1.3 has serious consequences for those countries' sustainability.
The rate had declined in 24 out of 31 European countries by 2011. Live births fell by 3.5pc over the three years, from 5.6 million to 5.4 million.
Europe's ageing population means the number of women of childbearing age also fell during this period, but this only accounts for about half of the fertility decline.
European Commission research says that recessions often have a stronger impact on those having their first baby, as younger and childless people as well as those without their own housing are more affected.
It points out that recessions often lead to people prolonging their time in higher education, which means a further postponement of births.
Employment status also can have a major impact on birth rates. It is most clearly related to a fall in fertility in Greece and Latvia that has corresponded to an increase in joblessness.
In Germany, though, unemployed women had 1.8 more live births than employed women. Just over one-third of German women of childbearing age are unemployed.
Fertility is now highest in northern and western European countries including Ireland, Germany and Sweden.
It is lowest in Eastern Europe and slightly higher in Southern Europe like Italy and Spain.
However the European Commission points out that a fall in fertility levels as a result of a recession is often temporary, a postponement of childbearing that is later compensated for when the economy improves.