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Only 2.1 live births will keep the size of the population constant



Did you know? The people in the European Union cannot keep the size of their population constant. As it is today, their birth and fertility rates are way too low, making it impossible for them to replace deaths with live births.


The European Commission has pointed out that “a total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level in developed countries: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant in the absence of migration.”

The phenomenon of declining birth rates and the inability to keep the EU population constant are owing to the following (main source of text– Eurostat, © European Union, 1995-2024):


Fewer live births
According to the Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office, the year 2020, Eurostat’s most recent year on the subject, marked a negative population change in the EU.

Over the years, the number of live births in the EU has been declining at a relatively steady pace. Since 2001, when 4.4 million live births recorded a modest rebound, and a high of 4.7 million children born in the EU was recorded in 2008, these positive numbers were followed by an annual decline. Portugal and Italy posted decreases of 25 % in live births between 2001 and 2020 although an increase of more than 20 % could be observed in Sweden, Czechia Cyprus.

Another way of measuring population trends is through the crude birth rate which is “the number of live births occurring during the year, per 1,000 population estimated at midyear. Subtracting the crude death rate from the crude birth rate provides the rate of natural increase, which is equal to the rate of population change in the absence of migration,” says the World Bank. In the EU, this rate was 10.2 in 2001 which went up to 10.6 in 2008 but has since then decreased, down to 9.1 in 2020. This pattern of decreasing rates has been observed in sixteen EU Member States. In contrast, increases have been noted in eleven Member States during the same period. In 2020, the highest crude birth rates were found in Ireland (11.2 live births per 1,000 persons), Cyprus (11.1), France and Sweden (both 10.9). The lowest crude birth rates were found in Italy (6.8), Spain (7.1) and Greece (7.9).

Increasing deaths
During the same period, the number of deaths has increased. In 2001 there were 4.2 million deaths in the EU as against the 5.2 million in 2020, the latter reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and representing the highest number observed over the previous five decades. Malta, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Poland registered increases in the number of deaths of more than 30 % between 2001 and 2020. In contrast, Estonia and Latvia recorded decreases of 13 % and 15 % respectively.

The period between 1 January 2020 and 1 January 2021 saw the number of deaths increased in all EU Member States, with the largest in Italy (111.7 thousand, +18%), Spain (75.5 thousand, +18 %) and Poland (67.6 thousand, +17 %).

In 2020, the highest crude death rates were observed in Bulgaria (18.0 deaths per 1,000 persons), Lithuania (15.6), Romania (15.4), Latvia (15.2), and Hungary (14.5), and the lowest in Ireland (6.4), Cyprus (7.2), Luxembourg (7.3) and Malta (7.9). (Crude death rate indicates the number of deaths occurring during the year, per 1,000 population estimated at midyear.)

The natural population change, which shows the difference between live births and deaths in a year, has been negative in the EU since 2012, due largely to the aging population, and in 2020, it is also, most likely, related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed’s note: More recent Eurostat data, which take a longer perspective, show that the population of the EU grew from 354.5 million in 1960 to 448.4 million on 1 January 2023, an increase of 93.9 million people. While the overall EU population went up in 2022, population increases were not observed everywhere. Seven countries recorded a decrease in population between 1 January 2022 and 2023, with the largest decrease reported in Italy (-179,419 persons) and the smallest in Slovakia (-5,920). Increases were observed in the other 20 countries, with the largest in Germany (1,121,721) and the smallest in Latvia (7,251).

Though the number of children per woman in the EU has been increasing, in absolute terms live births are plunging!

Plunging fertility rates
Though the number of children per woman in the EU has been increasing, in absolute terms live births are diminishing!  It is a fact that the number of live births per woman has increased between 2001 and 2019. It grew from 1.43 live births in 2001 to 1.5 between 2008 and 2010, only to slightly decrease to 1.51 in 2013. There was a modest rebound of up to 1.57 in 2016 which went down to 1.53 in 2019.

France (1.86 live births per woman) has the highest fertility rate, followed at a distance by Romania (1.77), Czechia, Ireland and Sweden (all 1.71). The lowest rates were found in Malta (1.14), Spain (1.23) and Italy (1.27).Over the period 2001-2019, the largest decreases in the total fertility rate could be observed in Finland (from 1.73 live births per woman in 2001 to 1.35 in 2019), Malta (from 1.48 to 1.14) and Luxembourg (from 1.66 to 1.34), and the highest increases could be found in Czechia (from 1.15 in 2001 to 1.71 in 2019) and Romania (from 1.27 to 1.77).


> Featured image (Baby)/Luma Pimentel, Unspalsh
> “Next Generation EU”/European Commission Audiovisual Services. (The photo has been used here to suggest future EU generations. However, the “NextGenEU”, portrayed on the poster hanging on the Berlaymont Building, the European Commission’s HQ, Brussels,  is actually an EU economic recovery package to help EU Member-States recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.)
> Gravestone/OpenClipart-Vectors, Pixabay. Edited.
> Mother and son/PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay. Edited.