Highly educated young women in many rich countries have delayed having children because of the global recession, and may on average wait for a further five-to-eight years if governments slash public spending, say leading demographers.
A study for the European Union by the Vienna Institute of Demography shows a steep decline in fertility rates in the US and Spain in 2009-10, and stagnation in Ireland and most European countries.
However the report coincides with UK government figures that show Britain's population rose by 470,000 in 2010, the highest annual growth rate for nearly 50 years. It rose 0.8% on the previous year and stands at 62.2m – a rise caused by natural change rather than immigration for the third consecutive year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
"If this is the case, then Britain joins the very few countries who are increasing their fertility rate despite the recession," said Tomáš Sobotka, one of the Austrian report's authors. "It is possible this is because the educated women are choosing to delay having while the less educated are having more."
According to the report: "Highly educated women react to employment uncertainty by adopting a 'postponement strategy', especially if they are childless. In contrast, less-educated women often maintain or increase their fertility under economic uncertainty."
But it adds that the patterns differ for men. "Those with low education and low skills face increasing difficulty in finding a partner or in supporting their family, and often show the largest decline in first child birth rates." Read more