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2005 | 2(148) | 35-53

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The fertility aspirations of Europeans and the restrictions they face when they try to have their desired number of children are studied by use of the Population Policy Acceptance Survey database (PPAS). The article is focused on the following issues: intentions regarding the having of children, preferred family size, and reasons for not wanting a child or another child. In many countries, the current fertility of the parents was found to be either close to or at replacement level. If these respondents succeed in having their desired number of children, then their average number of children will be either around or well above replacement level in all the participating countries (except for Eastern Germany). It seems that the problem of low fertility lies with those who had not yet had children at the time the survey was taken. A substantial part of them did not want to have a large family and preferred to remain childless, or had doubts about starting a family. The average number of children that young (20-29 years) childless people intended to have was well below the final number that parents planned to have and below replacement level (except in Estonia). If these figures are accurate, then future generations may bring us even lower fertility.The reason for not intending to have children support this line of thinking. The motivation with the highest ranking for not intending to have children was being single (varying from 16 percent in Lithuania to 56 percent in Hungary). At least some of these people will change (or have already) their minds and decide to have children as soon as they have a steady partner. Nevertheless, desire to have children was found to be low among young childless respondents, and ideals are generally higher than final attainment. The article concludes that there is certainly room for policies that would increase the level of fertility. The main finding-based indications suggesting that there may be a 'window' of opportunity for governments are the following: (1) among respondents, there was a substantial gap between desired and realised fertility; (2) a considerable number of respondents were still having doubts about whether or not they wanted a child/another child; and (3) among those who did not intend to have children, a significant group gave reasons other than demographic and health-related ones. Governments will have the greatest chance of success if they direct their family policies to childless people in the youngest age groups and, to a lesser extent, to one-child families. So, the greatest potential area for policymaking would seem to be among childless people. Based on our survey results, however, it seems that childless people are the most difficult of any group to persuade by way of policy measures. However in debating policy implications it is emphasised that no single policy measure can reverse low fertility in all parts of Europe. Owing to the context-sensitive nature of social and economic realities as well as the lingering effects of former family policies, what works in one country will not necessarily work in another. The same holds for different population groups within a country





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  • Tineke Fokkema, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, The Hague


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