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Why don't Spanish women have the children they want to have?

Spain has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, standing at 1.3 children per woman (in 2019), despite the fact that women say they want an average of two children. Thus, there is a gap between desired and achieved fertility .

It is one of the countries in Europe with the highest proportion of women without children, and when they decide to have them, motherhood is increasingly delayed. The arrival of the first child reaches beyond the age of 31, and in 2022 it will reach 32 years. But why don’t Spanish women have the children they want to have?

A study of the Social Observatory of the ”la Caixa” Foundation carried out by Alícia Adserà, professor and researcher at the School of Public at Princeton University, and Mariona Lozano, from the Center for Demographic Studies, gives us the keys.

The lowest fertility rate in Europe, along with Italy

About 19% of women aged 45 and over do not have children. In most European countries, the fertility rate is higher (between 1.4 and 1.9 children per woman) and there is a lower prevalence of women without children.

In Sweden, for example, the fertility rate is 1.7 children and women over 45 without children account for approximately 13%.

Spain, together with Italy, has the lowest fertility rate in Europe and the highest average age at birth of the first child among women.

Economic conditions stand out especially when women are asked what is the main reason why they have not fulfilled their fertility plans

Women don’t have the children they wish they had

The study shows that there is a gap between desired fertility and achieved fertility that has been growing in recent decades , and it is in southern Europe that it reaches its maximum.

At all ages, the majority of Spanish women state that they would like to have approximately two children. About 35% of women who have passed the optimal reproductive age, regardless of whether they have a university education or not, wish they had had more children than they do. Couples find it difficult to get everything on track before having children.

In the following graph we can see in colors the desired number of children (none, one, two, three or more) and the number of children achieved, according to the age of the woman.

The main impediments to being a mother

The reasons why Spanish couples do not have more children depend on the age and vital moment in which each one is, but those that top the list are the economic situation and the late start of living together as a couple .

The main factors causing this difference are adverse labor market conditions, difficulties in creating a home, increased instability in couples, and lack of support to facilitate the reconciliation between work and family. Couples find it difficult to get everything on track before having a child, and by the time this happens, some women are already past their biologically optimal childbearing age.

In young adults : it is difficult for them to achieve financial independence. The rates of youth unemployment and temporary work in Spain are among the highest in Europe.

The beginning of living together as a couple is delayed in part due to economic instability , but also because there is a change in expectations regarding the meaning of relationships. The increase in cohabitation, divorce and children born out of wedlock have altered the traditional life cycle.

In Spain, the delay in key life transitions such as leaving the parental home, the formation of a stable partner and the achievement of job stability results in a delay in fertility, which in turn leads to a decrease in the number of children that women end up having.

What should change?

According to the study, in comparison with other European countries, Spain lacks both favorable public policies to support families and optimal family reconciliation policies in companies. In its conclusions, it states:

“Policies that have tried to increase fertility through short-term cash transfers have not been successful and have only temporarily affected the timing of births. Changes in work-life balance and family, the dedication of more time by men to housework to reduce the “second working day” that awaits many women when they get home from work and improvements in the labor market seem to be the basic ingredients for promote fertility “.

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