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Why don’t women have all the children they say they want?

Alícia Adserà, Princeton University; Mariona Lozano, Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics, UAB

Spain has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world (1.3 children per woman in 2019) and has one of the highest proportions of childless women in Europe. Spanish women’s mean age at first birth (31 years) is also one of the highest. However, on average, women continue to state that they want around two children. Hence, there is a gap between desired and achieved fertility. The main drivers of this gap are adverse labour-market conditions, difficulties in leaving the parental home, increased instability for couples, and lack of support to ease work-family balance.
Key points
  • 1
       Spain has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, and women on average postpone their first birth beyond age 30.
  • 2
       The fertility rate is 1.3 (2019), but average desired fertility hovers around two children. Around 19% of women aged 45 and older are childless. In most European countries, fertility is higher and childlessness less prevalent. In Sweden, for example, the fertility rate is 1.7 and only 13% of women over age 45 are childless.
  • 3
       Couples in Spain have a hard time setting up their lives before moving into parenthood. Reasons for not achieving the desired number of children vary by age, but economic circumstances and delayed partnership formation are at the top of the list.
  • 4
       Young adults have a hard time establishing economic independence. Spain has among the highest rates of youth unemployment and temporary work in Europe.
  • 5
       Partnership formation is delayed in part due to economic instability and changing expectations about relationships. Rising rates of cohabitation, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births have changed the traditional life cycle.
  • 6
       Compared to other European countries, Spain lacks generous public policies to support families, and companies lack good work-family balance policies.
Economic conditions appear prominently when Spanish women are asked about the main reason that they have fallen short of their fertility plans

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