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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Monday 28 October 2013
6pm – 7.30pm
Mill Lane Lecture Room 1

As part of the Festival of Ideas, the Wellcome Trust funded Generation to Reproduction project presents a debate on fertility in Europe.

Across the EU, people are having fewer children. In the 1960s, at the height of post-war fertility there were around 7.5 million births annually in the countries that constitute the European Union; in 2011, there were 5.2 million. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) – the number of children per woman – averaged across Europe is 1.59 compared with 2.4 in the 1960s. The fertility rate needs to be 2.1 for Europe to maintain its population size without immigration. Adding in immigration to the calculation reduces the prospect of population decline, but only in the short term because immigrants rapidly assume the fertility behaviour of people native to the country.

Fertility rates vary widely across the 27 countries that make up the EU. German-speaking countries and those in the south and east have the lowest fertility rates. Germany, for example, has a fertility rate of 1.4 and it has remained at that level for the past decade. Countries in the north-west of Europe tend to have higher fertility rates. For instance, in France and Ireland, the total fertility rate is 2.0.

What factors influence fertility rates and why are regional variations so pronounced? Demographers debate the contribution of economic prosperity, female education, employment and other factors that may influence people's decisions about having children. Perspectives on the significance of this decline in fertility differ: environmentalists welcome benefits of the 'birth dearth'; economists and politicians worry about the strain on the welfare system of an aging population and the tensions caused by regional fertility differences on the EU's political and economic collaboration. This panel will consider the factors that cause regional contrasts in fertility rates across Europe and will debate the prospects for Europe's reproductive future.


  • David Coleman, Professor of Demography, University of Oxford
  • Sarah Franklin, Professor of Sociology, University of Cambridge
  • Richard Smith, Emeritus Professor of Historical Demography and Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Simon Szreter, Professor of History and Public Policy, University of Cambridge
  • Chris Wilson, Reader, Population, Health and Welfare Research Group, St Andrews University

There is no charge but booking is required.

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