"The world is growing and we are getting smaller," lamented the president of the European Comission, Jean-Claude Juncker, during the speech about the State of the Union two and a half years ago. Forecasts say that in 2050 Europeans will represent less than 5% of the global population, when today, with UN data, they represent almost 10% of the total population (a 9.63). That figure depends on three factors: mortality, migration and births. And the data of Eurostat published on Tuesday on that last variable point to the fertility rate has no sign of tracing: each European woman had 1.59 children in 2017, the last year for which there is data, a figure slightly lower than the 1.60 of the previous year . Also in Europe it moves at various speeds. The southern flank of the continent groups the countries with the lowest proportion of children per woman: Malta, Spain, Cyprus, Italy, Greece and Portugal close the classification in that order, all below 1.4 children per woman.
Spain is thus placed in the queue group on the continent where fewer children are born on the planet. Are there reasons for the alarm? For Albert Esteve, director of the Center for Demographic Studies of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the answer is no, if it is about guaranteeing pensions or avoiding depopulation, but it does seem worrisome if it goes against the vital project of tens of thousands of citizens: "It is cause for alarm if people do not have the children they More than half of the women who are not going to be mothers would have wanted to be, but they have waited a lot and have had problems, they have not found good jobs or in an environment of high housing prices they have not managed to emancipate themselves at the age adequate, "he explains.
Why do so many European countries with low fertility coincide in their geographical position? For Esteve, the delay in leaving the family home is key. "In the countries of the South, emancipation is late and young people depend on the support that their families can give them, and when you emancipate you do not have children immediately. You start a relationship and there is a test time until you know if it is the ideal to be the father or mother of your children. "
At the other extreme, France and Sweden top the list with the highest fertility rates, but both decline with respect to the previous year. "In France or in Sweden they have more support, in the south we rely more on parents, there are many people who start very late or do not have any children", agrees Julio Pérez, researcher CSIC. The trend suggests that in the matter of births, Europe is turning towards the East. Although they still do not occupy the top positions, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia are the only countries where fertility is growing and has reached its highest level in recent years.
A similar situation is reproduced when the age at which European women have their first child is observed. Italy (31.1 years), Spain (30.9), Luxembourg (30.8) and Greece (30.4), occupy the first positions. Again the omnipresent South facing the greatest youth in motherhood in the East: the women of Bulgaria (26,1), Romania (26,5) and Latvia (26,9) are the earliest, followed by other States of area.
In total, 5,075 million children were born in the EU in 2017, 73,000 less than a year earlier. This moves Europe away from the so-called replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, which does not even reach France (1.9). The first child of Europeans reaches an average of 29.1 years compared to 28.7 in 2013. This fact does not go unnoticed by experts in the combination of factors that make up the perfect storm of low birth rates. "Couples decide to delay the first child until they are 29, 30 or 31 years old and if they have the bad luck to live in countries with high unemployment, they do not have the material conditions that will help them to become parents. It takes a toll because the longer the first child is delayed, the more difficulties there are to have pregnancies as of 35, 36 and 37 years, "Esteve warns.