Parity Progression Ratios – Implications for Consumer

Written by Richard Hokenson 

Are birth rates in highly developed economies low because many women have smaller families or are they low because a significant number of women have no live births, i.e. they are childless? The answer to that question is important in understanding aspects of the consumer landscape. Individuals or couples with no children behave differently than families with children. For example, they spend more on travel and personal care. Smaller families have more resources per child.

Although the long-term decline in cohort fertility in highly developed economies has been widely documented (see Figure 1), there had not been any systematic analysis to uncover which parity contributed the most to the fertility decline. This has been remedied by a recent paper by Zeman et al (2018) who examined parity progression ratios for 32 countries grouped into eight regions. Parity is defined as the number of pregnancies reaching viable gestational age (live births). The Parity progression ratio (PPR) is the proportion of women with a certain number of children who go on to have another child. For example, PPR01 is the probability that a woman will have one child. PPR12 is the probability that a woman with one child will have a second child, etc.

The parity progression ratios can be used to calculate the proportion of women by total number of live births. The results are displayed in Charts 1 through 4. For most categories, there are significant differences by region (see Table 1 which follows the charts). The principal observations are:

  • There are substantial differences in the percentage of women who are childless, ranging from a low of 9% for Eastern Europe to a high of 22% in German-speaking countries (see Chart 1).

    • In terms of the percentage of women with only one child, the only major outlier is Eastern Europe at 34% (see Chart 2).

    • The proportion of women with two children is fairly uniform across regions (see Chart 3).

  • There are substantial differences in the percentage of women with large families (3 or more children), ranging from a low of 11% in Eastern Europe to a high of 32% in English Speaking non-European countries (see Chart 4). The US continues to march to a different drummer. Of the 32 countries, it is the only one with a completed cohort fertility rate that is increasing. There is a big decline in the proportion of the most highly educated women (MD/PhD) who are childless. Furthermore, they are having larger families (3 is now the new 2).

Zeman,K., Beaujouan,E., Brzozowska, Z., and Sobotka, T. (2018). “Cohort Fertility decline in low fertility countries: Decomposition using parity progression ratios.” Demographic Research 38(25):652-690.



This update was researched and written by Richard Hokenson. Data is as of  21 September 2018

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