Population Research and Policy Review 22: 479–496, 2003.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The emergence of sub-replacement family size ideals in Europe
, WOLFGANG LUTZ
& MARIA RITA
Princeton University, NJ 08544, USA;
Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy
of Sciences, Vienna, Austria
Abstract. Period fertility started to drop signiﬁcantly below replacement in most Western
European countries during the 1970s and 1980s, while most fertility surveys, value studies
and opinion polls have found that the number of children considered ideal for society or for
one’s own family has remained above two children per woman. These surveys have led to the
expectation that, sooner or later, period fertility would recover in Europe. The most recent data
from the Eurobarometer 2001 survey, however, suggest that in the German-speaking parts of
Europe the average ideal family sizes given by younger men and women have fallen as low
as 1.7 children. This paper examines the consistency and the credibility of these new ﬁndings,
which – if they are indeed indications of a new trend – may alter the current discussion about
future fertility trends in Europe.
The persistence of high family size ideals has remained a puzzle for demo-
graphers in the industrial world. Despite declines in period fertility well
below replacement level in many European countries, women and men have
consistently responded to surveys saying they would ideally like to have
at least two or more children. For some, the high ideal has implied unmet
demand for children and an opportunity for pro-natalist public policies to
increase achieved fertility (Chesnais 1996, 2000). For others, the continuation
of high ideal family size suggests that period fertility will eventually rise, if
and when the tempo-depressing effects of delayed childbearing come to an
end (Bongaarts 2001). Even skeptics of the predictive power of stated fertility
wonder at the normative strength of the two-child ideal (Livi Bacci 2001).
In this note, we report evidence that the two-child ideal may be beginning
to change in several European countries. The latest round of the Eurobaro-
meter survey (2001) shows that while in most countries women of all ages
still have family size ideals above replacement, national averages in Austria
and Germany have fallen well below replacement. Younger cohorts in Austria
Authors arranged in alphabetical order.