Since the beginning of the 1960s, birth-rates have been falling across the OECD area. Timing and intensity and duration of the fertility decline varies across countries. In fact, in some countries the decline is ongoing, while in a growing number of countries fertility rates have started to increase. Although small, the increase is significant enough to reflect a reversal of trends in some countries but not all. Is this a temporary increase in birth-rates, or are fertility rates in OECD countries structurally bouncing back from sometimes very low levels?

To address this issue, this paper unpicks the underlying mechanics and drivers of fertility trends. In past decades, many potential parents decided to postpone family formation, have fewer children, or have no children at all. These choices were influenced by many different and often interrelated reasons including, for example, the wish to establish a labour market career before taking time off to care for children, the direct cost of children, including housing or education, and growing acceptance of childlessness as a life-choice. Similarly, the recent upswing in birth-rates can also be related to a combination of factors: the inability to postpone parenthood any further and the subsequent increase in “late motherhood”, economic growth, and the development of policies to reduce the barriers to family formation.

The role of policies in the transition to childbearing is contested. This paper reviews the evidence on how in-cash, in-kind and in-time policies (e.g. leave entitlements) may affect fertility behaviour – recent reforms and their effects are illustrated. In particular, it seems that policies which reconcile work and family commitment (including in-work benefits, parental leave and early childhood care and education services) are found to have a positive influence on fertility outcomes as well as on intentions. Each of the individual measures may have limited effects, but their combined effect contributes to sustaining fertility rates close to two children per women in France and Nordic countries Macro-trends.pdf (58-page report)


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