Fertility behaviour

The average life expectancy at birth at the end of the 1990s was more or less equal to the level forty years ago. The mortality development that had started in the mid-19th century came to a halt at the end of the 1950s. The average life expectancy has from the point of view of modern criteria become stable at an extremely low level. Such tendency in mortality development was characteristic not only of Estonia but of almost all European post-socialist countries. (According to the UN, the shortening of the average life expectancy in Eastern European transition economies has been the greatest measured throughout human history in peace-time conditions.) Still, compared to other countries, in Estonia the halt in development has lasted longer and the average life expectancy at birth has become fixed at an especially low level.

The Estonian population is characterised by an extremely high number of abortions. Due to the unavailability of modern contraceptive devices and especially due to extremely insufficient knowledge about birth control, a large number of women have resorted to abortion as a principal method of family planning. Too little attention has been paid to the consequences of the expansive spread of abortions, lower fertility and infertility at an earlier age are probably the results of the abortive behaviour.

Extra-marital fertility (a birth into a family without a father) of the indigenous Estonian population has traditionally been similar to the Nordic countries. Today, more than 90% of the pregnancies leading to the first birth commence outside lawful marriage, and in about half of such cases the child is also born outside registered co-habitation. At the same time, the actual extra-marital fertility has been relatively stable in Estonia during the last four or five decades (approximately 10%), showing even a tendency to decline in younger generations.

Such a consistent fall in the age of fertility continued in Estonia for fifty years but has now stopped and an opposite trend, a new rise in the age of fertility has started. The average age at which women give birth is still far below the pre-war level.

Besides the fertility level, fertility timing is one of the principal indicators to describe the fertility rate of a population. During the last fifty years, the age of fertility has steadily fallen in Estonia, especially swiftly during the seventies. Half of the women of the generations of the seventies had had their first child by age 23, whereas by the same age only 30% of women fifty years older had given birth to their first child.

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