Postponement and Recuperation in Cohort Fertility:
Austria, Germany and Switzerland in a European Context

Tomáš Sobotka, Kryštof Zeman, Ron Lesthaeghe, Tomas Frejka, Karel Neels


Across developed countries, cohorts of women born after World War II have seen a shift of childbearing towards later ages and a concomitant decline in fertility level. We study this shift using the notions of fertility postponement (fertility decline at younger ages) and subsequent recuperation (a compensatory fertility increase at higher reproductive ages). We apply order-specific data and extend and elaborate on two broad approaches to this process: 1) a basic benchmark model extensively used by Tomas Frejka and his colleagues and 2) a relational model proposed by Ron Lesthaeghe (2001). Our work focuses especially on three predominantly German-speaking countries, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and compares them with selected European countries and the United States. We illustrate the usefulness of these two approaches for constructing projection scenarios of completed cohort fertility among women of reproductive age. Using three key indicators of the postponement transition – initial fertility level, absolute fertility decline at younger ages, and the relative degree of fertility “recuperation” at older ages – we demonstrate that each of these components is salient for explaining contemporary cross-country differences in cohort fertility. Recuperation is especially important, but is also clearly patterned by birth order: whereas all the countries analysed have experienced a vigorous recovery of delayed first births, pronounced differentials are observed with regard to the recuperation of second and particularly of third and later births. In line with the differentials observed, projected values of completed fertility in five European countries vary widely for the cohorts born in the early 1980s, ranging from 1.3 in the lowest scenario for Spain to over 1.8 in the highest scenario for the Czech Republic.


Fertility; Fertility postponement; Fertility recuperation; Cohort fertility; Fertility projections; Germany; Austria; Switzerland

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