Birth rates throughout Europe have declined to very low levels – currently the majority of countries have total fertility rates (TFR) which are registering below 1.5 children per woman. Several recent studies have suggested that this level might be a threshold that triggers self-reinforcing mechanisms, which tend to further suppress fertility. Hence, once TFR falls below 1.5, bringing it back up will be more dif- ficult. The Austrian Demographer Wolfgang Lutz has termed this situation a "low fertility trap". Most countries in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe - including the European parts of the former Soviet Union - seem to have fallen in this "trap". In addition, in a number of these countries the registered TFR is even below 1.3, a level that Kohler, Billari and Ortega refer to as "lowest low fertility". For a cross-section picture as of 2003 see the chart below.
(Please click over image for better viewing)
Very low fertility levels are no longer simply a European phenomenon. Several Asian countries have also fallen into the “low fertility trap” zone – Hong Kong was the first to do so in 1985, and has now been joined by Macao (with a TFR of below 1), Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore. In North America, Canada has been hovering just above the “trap” zone for a number of years now. In Latin America, Cuba registered a TFR of below 1.5 during the mid 1990s, but is now considered to be one of the few examples of a country where the Tfr seems to have returned above the 1.5 threshold (although, of course, whether there is much that is generalizable from this specific case seems to be rather doubtful).