A still declining birth rate and fertility rate

A still declining birth rate and fertility rate

In 2017, the number of live births from mothers residing in Belgium has fallen below 120,000. The crude birth rate[1]is decreasing for the 7th year in a row and stands at 10.5 per mille. This is what emerged from the latest data on birth and fertility rates (2016 and 2017) published by Statbel, the Belgian statistical office.

With 119,102 live births in 2017 for a still slightly growing population, the Belgian fertility rate, measured with the the total fertility rate[2]stands at 1.64 child per woman on average (1.68 in 2016).

In the 80s and 90s, the fertility rate in Belgium has remained stable for several years at levels below that of today (1.51 child per woman in 1985). Within the European Union, the Belgian fertility rate is just above the European average (1.59 child per woman for the EU28). The fertility rates of Germany (1.57), Luxembourg (1.39), Portugal (1.38), Italy (1.32) and Spain (1.31) are lower.

However, France (1.90), Sweden (1.78), Ireland (1.78), Denmark (1.75) and the United Kingdom (1.74) have a fertility rate above the average. The Netherlands (with a fertility rate of 1.62), are, just like Belgium, slightly above the average of the European Union. Furthermore, we note that, even if the current fertility rate decreases (from 2.7 children per woman in 1964 to 1.6 child per woman, on average, in 2017), mothers who are today at the end of their childbearing years (arbitrarily set at 50 years) have had the same number of children as mothers who have reached the end of the reproductive period in 2000 or just before (1.82 child on average for the female generation born in 1968 and 1.84 child on average for the female generation born in 1950).

At regional level, the 2017 decrease seems slightly more significant in Flanders (from 1.66 to 1.62 child per woman) than in Wallonia (from 1.66 to 1.63 child per woman) and in the Brussels-Capital Region (from 1.82 to 1.80 child per woman). However, on the long term, there is undeniably a convergence of regional fertility rates.


The input of the foreign population explains the higher fertility rate in the Brussels-Capital Region compared to that of the two other regions. However, it should be noted that the fertility rate of mothers whose current nationality is foreign is lower in Brussels-Capital (2.06 children per woman) than in Flanders (2.56 children per woman) or Wallonia (2.33 children per woman), while the fertility rate of Belgian mothers is similar in the 3 regions (1.63 in Brussels-Capital, 1.62 in Flanders and 1.63 in Wallonia). The share of live births from the population of foreign nationality account for the higher fertility rate in Brussels: they are preponderant in Brussels-Capital, with 52.0 % of the total, while they only represent 21.6 % in Flanders and 18.2 % in Wallonia.

The average age at birth is constantly increasing

Since at least 1998, the average age of mothers at the birth of their children has increased at an average annual rate of almost 0.1 year. At national level, it went from 29.1 years in 1998 to 30.6 years in 2016[3]. The evolution is similar for the first birth: from 27.3 years in 1998 to 28.9 years in 2016. At regional level, the evolutions are more or less similar, but the evolution is slightly less orderly and slightly faster in Brussels-Capital than elsewhere. Yet the levels remain different: the average age of the mother at birth is higher, whatever the birth order, in the Brussels-Capital Region (30.1 years for the first birth and 31.6 years for all birth orders) than in the Flemish Region (28.9 years for the first birth and 30.4 years for all birth orders) and in the Walloon Region (28.4 years for the first birth and 30.3 years for all birth orders).


The large majority of births occur in a union (legal or de facto)

In 2016, the share of live births out of wedlock continued to increase. Becoming the majority in 2015, they represent today 50.9 % of the births in Belgium. In Flanders, the 50 % mark of births out of wedlock will undoubtedly soon be exceeded (49.9 % in 2016). In Wallonia, this point was reached in 2007 and the share of births out of wedlock now exceeds 60 %. In Brussels-Capital, the situation remains different, with 35.0 % of live births out of wedlock and a slower evolution than in the two other regions. At the same time, the share of live births out of a union (de facto or legal) remains a minority (13.2 % in 2016 for the whole country) and increases slowly. In Flanders, it remains below 10 %, while in Brussels-Capital it is 17.7 % and in Wallonia 17.0 %.

[1] The crude birth rate is the ratio between the number of live births during a given year and the mean of the total population of that same year, expressed in per mille.

[2] The total fertility rate (TFR) is the sum of the age-specific fertility rates (the age-specific fertility rate being the ratio between live births from women of a given age and the average number of women of this age). The TFR is the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children in accordance with age-specific fertility rates of the specified year.

[3] Since the statistical birth certificates for 2017 are not yet available, the fertility statistics for 2017 remain incomplete and provisional. Data per civil status and birth order, among others, are missing. However, the final data will not bring major changes to the already known data from the National Register.