In general, trends in Austria parallel those in most other (Western) European countries (Kytir and Münz 1999). Couples delay the birth of the first child; childlessness is increasing, but most women do become mothers; out-of-wedlock births are increasing; the age at first marriage is rising; a growing proportion of people do not marry at all; the number of divorces is growing; and life expectancy is higher than ever.
After an extended period of nearly zero population growth between the early 1970s and the late 1980s, the population increase accelerated again when a large group of females reached childbearing age, and a growing number of immigrant foreign workers and refugees and their families entered the country. In the foreseeable future, a long period of stable or even reduced population is projected.
Since 1963, fertility has declined more or less continuously. In 1999, the birth rate reached an all-time low of 1.31 children per woman—one of the lowest in the world, only slightly higher than in Spain, Italy, Greece, and the Czech Republic. In 2000 there was a slight increase to 1.34 children per woman. Families with four or more children have almost completely disappeared among groups born after 1940. The mean age of mothers at first birth (twenty-seven years in 1998) is still low, for example, two years younger than in the Netherlands.
Obviously, ideal and actual family sizes differ greatly. This discrepancy can partly be explained because women and couples postpone their desire to have children. Women want to enter the labor force or remain there, and they view successful parenthood as difficult to combine with gainful employment. In multiple cases, what were intended to be temporary postponements result in lifelong childlessness (Lutz 2000).
With 31 percent of births by unmarried women, Austria ranks lower than Scandinavian countries, but higher than Southern Europe. Distinct regional differences in attitudes toward outof-wedlock births are reflected in ancient rural inheritance patterns and religious traditions. In some parts of Austria, it is traditional and acceptable for single women to have children, and the percentage of illegitimate first-borns may be as high as 75 percent. The mother's chances of later marriage are not seriously affected. The social pattern whereby women consciously reject marriage but not motherhood is found only in small, urban, progressive groups.
Despite the widespread use of birth control, 40 percent of all first births are described in retrospect as "unplanned" (Family Fertility Survey 1996, cited in Kytir and Münz 1999). In any case, the transition to parenthood is a critical life event; currently, almost all mothers of a newborn child—including those with higher levels of education—leave their paid employment at least temporarily (for one year or longer). At the same time, couples often return to a gender-oriented traditional division of labor with fathers assuming responsibility for supporting the family financially (Beham 1999).