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It is hard to imagine any definition of liveability that does not include children and places for them to play, yet definitions often overlook the city’s smallest citizens. 

Cities have traditionally been seen as ‘fertility traps’, places where birth rates are far lower compared to the countryside. It is easy to see why.

As cities have swelled to host more than half the world’s population, global fertility rates have plummeted from approximately five children per woman in the 1950s to 2.47 today, according to UN data.The two trends appear linked – as countries develop and become urbanised, fertility rates fall – even if a cause cannot actually be identified.

Further, multiple international studies since 2000 have found that fertility levels are generally higher in rural areas and small towns and lower in large cities. However, digging deeper into the trends of urbanisation and low fertility reveals some surprising and sometimes counterintuitive statistics, thanks to an intricate and complex web of socioeconomic and other factors.

For example, it’s often assumed that an urban environment tends to reduce fertility because the cost of raising children is higher in cities. Yet surprisingly, cities with some of the highest living and housing expenses, for example London, actually have a higher adjusted crude birth rate (the number of newborns per 1000 women of childbearing age) than their national average.

This is often linked to higher incomes in these high cost of living cities. The inverse relationship between income and fertility isn’t a modern urban phenomenon; it’s known as the demographic-economic paradox. The idea was described as early as 1798 by demographic scholar Thomas Malthus who argued that greater means would make it possible to have more children, but that doesn’t happen.

Baby booming cities 
Paradoxical or not, there is evidence to suggest that cities are not always the fertility traps that they are assumed to be, at least not in Europe. To examine the link between cities and fertility, we investigated a number of capitals and major cities featured in the PATRIZIA Living City Index to see if their birth rates were higher or lower than the national average. The result? 

On average, the adjusted crude birth rate in metropolitan areas was 5.3% higher than the population-weighted birth rate of the countries analysed. Our research included 63 metropolitan areas in Europe on the index. In 2017, these cities comprised 138 million people and recorded 1.5 million live births.  

Of these, there are four cities in which the birth rate is at least 10% higher than the  national average: Dresden, Birmingham, Antwerp and Lisbon. The excess birth rate of the latter two is even more impressive when compared to birth rate in the countryside: +20% and 36% respectively. When compared to non-city peers in their home country, Milan and Brussels also score extremely high.

Another surprising finding comes from Germany. The former East Germany (German Democratic Republic) is considered an extreme fertility trap: in 1992, the lowest-ever total fertility rate was recorded in East Germany. Yet, the cities of Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig outperformed their metropolitan counterparts in the western part of the country. 

Fertile countries 
There are also countries where urban areas are generally more fertile than rural areas: Portugal (+11.1% – this is mostly driven by Lisbon), Belgium +6%, Italy +2.1%. The metropolitan area of Paris is the most fertile in absolute terms, followed by the West Midlands area of the UK (driven by Birmingham) and Marseille. 

Conversely, there are cities where the birth rates are indeed comparatively lower than the national average. Edinburgh scores by far the worst – its birth rate is almost 22% lower than the UK average. There are 16 fewer babies born there per 1000 women of childbearing age than in London (+4.8% vs. UK). Cities with the lowest crude birth rates are Genoa (41.5), Porto (42.8) and Rome (43).

Strasbourg and Montpellier have a higher birth rate than the European average, yet rank low compared to their high fertile home country. They are followed by a group of smaller cities such as Cardiff, Graz, Odense and Regensburg, which show about 7.5% lower fertility than the country in which they are located. 

The existence of children in cities is a driver towards increased liveability: cities that are considered ‘child-friendly’ tend to be the ones that are more pleasant to live in for everyone.  

UNICEF defines a child-friendly city as one where children have access to quality social services, have a safe, secure and clean environment with access to green spaces, can meet friends and have places to play and enjoy themselves, and have a fair chance in life regardless of their ethnic origin, religion, income, gender or ability. These are qualities that are valued and enjoyed by kids, parents and urban singles alike. 

*This article originally appeared in estatements Magazine


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