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Tomáš Sobotka and Éva Beaujouan. 2014. “Two is best? The persistence of a two-child family ideal in Europe.” Population and Development Review 40(3): 391-419.


How persistent and universal has the two child family ideal been in Europe during the last three decades? We analyze responses of women of reproductive age from 168 surveys conducted in 37 countries in 1979–2012. A two-child ideal has become nearly universal among women in all parts of Europe. Countries that used to display higher ideal family size have converged over time towards a two-child model. Six out of ten women in Europe consider two children as ideal and this proportion is very similar in different regions. The mean ideal family size has become closely clustered around 2.2 in most countries. Gradual shifts can be documented towards more women expressing an ideal of having one child (and, quite rarely, having no children) and a parallel decline in an ideal of three or more children. An increasing number of European countries saw their mean ideal family size falling to relatively low levels around 1.95–2.15. However, with an exception of one survey for eastern Germany and two of the surveys not included in our study due to high nonresponse or low sample size, none of the analyzed surveys suggests a decline of mean ideal family size to levels considerably below replacement, i.e., below 1.9 children per woman.

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Press release (15 September 2014)

Appendix 1 (included in the paper): Surveys and questions analyzed

Online Appendix 2: All considered and selected datasets

Online Appendix 3: Inclusion criteria and possible systematic differences between surveys

Online data Appendix 4 (MS Excel file): Ideal family size in Europe, 1979-2012; women aged (15)18-49. Main results and indicators for surveys conducted in European countries

Access the working paper version of the article (VID Working Papers 3/2014)

Access the EURREP Research Brief No. 1 covering the topic