Summary and general conclusions: Childbearing Trends and Policies in Europe
European fertility early in the 21st century was at its lowest level since the Second World War. This study explores contemporary childbearing trends and policies in Europe, and gives detailed attention to the past two or three decades. We felt motivated to undertake this project because in many European countries, as well as for the European Union as a whole, the overall fertility level and its consequences are of grave concern and draw attention on the political stage. Our account focuses somewhat more on the previously state socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where available knowledge about the impact on childbearing of the momentous political and economic transition that started in 1989 remains relatively scarce. As family formation and childbearing behaviour are inherent components of societal life, they were influenced and modified by the various political, economic, and social changes that took place in Europe during the past 60 years. There were also profound changes in norms, values, beliefs, and attitudes regarding family and childbearing, and these exerted additional effects on fertility and family trends. To identify such effects, this study pays much attention to the influence of social and family policies on fertility, to the influence of political and economic changes on fertility and family trends, and to the diverse ways changes in values, norms, and attitudes relate to the transformation in family-related behaviour in Europe. In the present chapter, we outline main issues discussed in the subsequent overview chapters, and summarise the main findings of the entire study.