On the eve of World War I, the average number of annual births in Europe was 10 million for a total population of 300 million inhabitants; by the year 1995, this number had dropped to 6 million for a corresponding population of 500 million; hence, the population had increased by two-thirds while the number of births fell by 40%. Such a decline was structural and even rather linear; the following data represent the number of births (in thousands) from decade to decade throughout the twentieth century:
The post-World War II baby boom was limited in time, space, and magnitude; it occurred only among the Western allies and its duration was usually short (15 to 20 years). In 1960 as well as in 1950, the number of births in Europe was similar to its 1940 level: around 8 million; the idea of a fertility cycle had no meaning for Europe as a whole. The 1940s and 1950s marked a stagnation, not an upswing. Then the secular movement resumed steadily, but it is very difficult to predict the bottom line since we have no comparable reference in our past. In 1996 the total fertility rate for Europe, with or without the European part of the former Soviet Union, was 1.4 — the lowest in the world. For Europe alone the birth deficit — defined by the difference between the number of births required for replacement and the number observed — is now in the region of about 2 million per year.