As reported in a recent study dated January 11, 2017 by the French National Institute of Demographic Studies (“INED”), the proportion of childless women in Europe is still increasing since one out of 7 European women have not given birth. The word infertility is used to describe a woman who has not borne a child, whether intentionally or not.

Throughout Europe, there are more and more childless couples. According to researchers explaining this phenomenon: “the majority of economic and cultural changes in the 2nd half of the 20th century appear to have separated women and men from parenthood”.  

The INED study tracked its statistics from after First World War (WWI), when a significant number of women became single due to war casualties. In women born from 1900 to 1910, infertility rates were therefore very high: 17 to 25 % of them were childless. Following WWII, there was a boom in marriages and birth rates, due to social pressure to have children, only an average of one out of 10 women born in the 40’s was childless.

Thereafter, fertility trends in Europe vary from one region to another.

Up until the 1960’s in Western Europe infertility rates are similar to the rates observed in the beginning of the century, for both societal and economic reasons: more individualism, increased tolerance towards non-conventional living arrangements, more effective contraception, couples living together and childbearing starting later, greater employment stability. Infertility rates then stabilized at the beginning of the 1970’s “probably due to a better compromise between work and family life”.  

In Central and Eastern Europe, the pattern is rather similar although somewhat shifted in time, due to strong social pressure for childbearing. But in the 60’s infertility rates also increase. According to the researchers’ report this is due to: “A rough transition towards capitalism, job insecurity, as well as a wider access to higher education, and new career opportunities”.

Infertility increased in a more significant manner in the countries of Southern Europe: in Greece, 20% of women born at the beginning of the 70’s are childless. In Italy the situation is even more worrying: fertility rates are the lowest in the world, with 1.37 children per woman (25% of Italian women are childless, and 25% have only one child), thus representing genuine wartime demography for the eldest country in the world after Japan! The main reasons for this are high unemployment rates, as well as underdeveloped family policies. In their analyses, researchers estimate that infertility will continue to increase in these countries.