Another of the significant trends underlying low fertility in Europe is the increasing childlessness that can now be found in many parts of Europe. Motherhood is still nearly universal among the women in most Central and East European countries, where the proportion of women who reach age 50 childless is well below 10 percent and where relatively little change has been observed across cohorts.
In the rest of Europe, however, the proportion has now generally risen above 10 percent and is increasing. According to some estimates childlessness among women born after 1970 might approach 25 percent in countries like Austria, Germany (and specifically in the western parts), as well as in England and Wales. Unexpectedly for many observers, there has been increasing evidence that in some West European countries (specifically Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands), childlessness has emerged as an ideal life style among some groups. Data from the 2002 EuroBarometer survey indicate that over one in ten young women (aged 18 to 34) in these countries declared “none” as the ideal number of children (see chart below).
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Of course it needs to be borne in mind here that there is also considerable evidence accumulating that involuntary childlessness is on the rise. Some of this increase is driven by factors related to union formation (i.e. the inability to find a suitable partner); another part, by biological factors (infertility). The levels and trends in infertility are difficult to ascertain because of definitional and measurement issues, however, there is evidence that as postponement has pushed births towards the end of a woman’s reproductive years, where fecundability is reduced, sterility is higher, and the risk of miscarriage increases, and in general more and more women report problems becoming pregnant. In some countries of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, two other factors are often quoted as contributing to increasing infertility - the high incidence of repeat abortion, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).