Is a positive relationship between fertility and economic development emerging at the sub-national regional level? Theoretical considerations and evidence from Europe
European Journal of Population, 35:3, 487–518 (2019)
Keywords: Europe, economic and social development, family policies, fertility, regional development
Evidence for nation-states suggests that the long-standing negative relationship between fertility and economic development might turn positive at high levels of development. The robustness of the reversal continues to be debated. We add to this discussion from a novel angle by considering whether such a reversal could also occur at the sub-national level within highly developed countries. Our contributions are both theoretical and empirical. We ﬁrst discuss important trends which might foster the emergence of a positive fertility–development relationship across regions of highly developed countries. These include shifts in family policies, changes in the spatial organisation of the economic sphere, and selective international and internal migration processes. In order to explore whether we observe tendencies towards a reversal, we investigate data covering 20 European countries subdivided in 256 regions between 1990 and 2012. We document a weakening of the negative relationship between fertility and economic development within many countries, and among some countries the emergence of a positive relationship. These ﬁndings do not seem to be driven by postponement effects alone. However, there is substantial variation in the fertility and the economic development levels at which such tendencies towards a reversal are observed.