The global economic recession has curbed the general rise in fertility seen in many developed countries over recent decades, with some nations experiencing a significant decline in birthrates since the downturn of 2008, a study has found.

Scientists said the recession has brought to an end the first concerted rise in fertility rates across the industrialised world since the 1960s, as young, professional women in particular feared for their financial future if they became pregnant.

England and Wales were among several European countries to experience an interruption in the recent steady rise in fertility rates, while the United States, Spain and Latvia all experienced a dramatic reversal after the 2008 financial shock that still reverberates around the world, the scientists said.

The study found that people's reactions to the global economic downturn in terms of willingness to have children varied depending on their age, gender, educational status, how many children they already had and their migrant status.

"The young and the childless, for example, are less likely to have children during recessions," said Tomas Sobotka of the Vienna Institute of Demography in Austria, who led the study.

"Highly educated women react to employment uncertainty by adopting a postponement strategy, especially if they are childless. In contrast, less-educated women often maintain or increase their fertility under economic uncertainty," he said.

The scientists said previous recessions have been too short-lived to have a serious impact on fertility but the current economic downturn is bad enough to have long-lasting effects.

"Massive cuts in public spending in many developed countries, including Spain and the UK, aimed at reducing the budget deficit, will affect social and family-related expenditures and potentially also fertility," the scientists write. "The consequences of the recession could affect fertility in two stages; first, directly through rising unemployment and economic uncertainty and later through a decline in monetary support to families with children," they said.

The study, carried out in collaboration with the International Institute for Applied Systems and published in the journal Population and Development Review, found that fertility rates in 26 of the 27 EU countries were steadily rising until 2008, when they began to either decline or remain stable in 17 nations.