INTRODUCTION: Although fertility rates are falling in many countries, Europe is the continent with the lowest total fertility rate (TFR). This review assesses trends in fertility rates, explores possible health and social factors and reviews the impact of health and social interventions designed to increase fertility rates. METHODS: Searches were done in medical and social science databases for the most recent evidence on relevant subject headings such as TFR, contraception, migration, employment policy and family benefits. Priorities, omissions and disagreements were resolved by discussion. RESULTS: The average TFR in Europe is down to 1.5 children per woman and the perceived ideal family size is also declining. This low fertility rate does not seem directly caused by contraception since in Northern and Western Europe the fertility decline started in the second half of the 1960s. Factors impacting on lower fertility include the instability of modern partnerships and value changes. Government support of assisted human reproduction is beneficial for families, but the effect on TFR is extremely small. Government policies that transfer cash to families for pregnancy and child support also have small effects on the TFR. CONCLUSIONS: Societal support for families and for couples trying to conceive improves the lives of families but makes no substantial contribution to increased fertility rates.
- postponed childbearing