Fact Check

Is Europe Governed by 'Childless Baby Boomers'?

Confirmation bias includes cherry-picking information that confirms a particular point of view while ignoring contrary evidence.

Published Nov. 26, 2018

Updated Nov. 28, 2018
 (Grand Warszawski / Shutterstock.com)
Image courtesy of Grand Warszawski / Shutterstock.com
Most leaders of European countries do not have children.
What's True

Several high-profile European leaders do not have biological children.

What's False

A majority of European leaders have biological children of their own, and others have stepchildren from their spouses' previous marriages.

On 14 May 2017, the Washington Examiner published a piece article titled “Emmanuel Macron and the Barren Elite of a Changing Continent,” which characterized Europe as being “governed by childless Baby Boomers”:

Emmanuel Macron founded a new party, and his election as France's president is said to herald the "revival of Europe." Interestingly, Macron has no children. This is not that notable in itself. After all, George Washington had no biological children. But across the continent Macron wants to bind closer together, there's a stark pattern:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also has no children. British prime minister Theresa May has no children. Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni has no children. Holland's Mark Rutte has no children. Sweden's Stefan Lofven has no biological children. Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel has no children. Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon has no children. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has no children.

This is too remarkable to ignore. While Macron is young -- 39 years old -- the rest of Europe is being governed by childless Baby Boomers.

Breitbart News amplified this list in a post on the same topic two months later:

The list goes on ... Latvia’s childless president is Raimonds Vējonis, Lithuania’s childless president is Dalia Grybauskaitė, and Romania’s childless president is Klaus Werner Iohannis.

Breitbart highlighted these leaders to make a deep-state conspiracy talking point: “They are not part of a family and have come to see all their attention focused on one dominant and all-powerful social unit to which they pay obeisance and give their complete and devoted attention: The State.” The Examiner posited a different but equally unsubstantiated thesis: “contemporary childless leaders, however ascendant they feel today, may be the last gasp of secularism ... The future is won by those who show up, and only the religiously orthodox are having children.”

Without addressing these speculative claims, we note first that both articles’ accounting of European leaders’ children is not 100% accurate; second, their lists are written to exclude the stepchildren of those leaders; and third, their lists ignore, for the sole purpose of making a faulty point, the majority of European leaders with multiple biological children. Below is a table of the leaders mentioned in those articles (which includes Jean-Claude Juncker, who doesn't actually head any country), along with the number of biological or stepchildren each has in their family:

Leader Country / Gov. Body Biological Children Stepchildren
Emmanuel Macron France 0 3
Angela Merkel Germany 0 2
Theresa May United Kingdom 0 0
Giuseppe Conte* Italy (*as of 2018) 1 0
Mark Rutte Holland 0 0
Stefan Lofven Sweden 0 2
Xavier Bettel Luxembourg 0 0
Nicola Sturgeon Scotland 0 0
Raimonds Vējonis Latvia 2 0
Dalia Grybauskaite Lithuania 0 0
Klaus Werner lohannis Romania 0 0
Jean-Claude Juncker European Commission 0 0

Posts such as the Examiner’s and Breitbart’s entirely ignore stepchildren, even in cases (like Macron's) when those leaders are reportedly quite close with a spouse's children. For example, Angela Merkel has two stepchildren from her husband’s first marriage, but her husband has made it a stated point to avoid news media coverage of their family life.

In other cases, the reports are factually incorrect or outdated. Breitbart made the claim that Raimonds Vējonis was the “childless president” of Latvia, despite the fact that he is married with two children. References from 2017 were correct in stating that previous Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni had no children, but in 2018 Giuseppe Conte took office, and he has a son from a previous marriage.

Additionally, these posts cast leaders' childless statuses as intentional, discounting cases in which those persons have tried unsuccessfully conceive children. In September 2016, for example, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon opened up to the BBC about having a miscarriage while deputy first minister of Scotland: “Sometimes ... having a baby just doesn't happen -- no matter how much we might want it to," she said.

Furthermore, Europe includes far more countries than the 13 chosen to make a point about the continent's supposedly “barren elite.” While Breitbart did say “the list goes on” before incorrectly introducing the president of Latvia as childless, their list really did not “go on”. Below is a table of the 18 remaining European Union countries ignored in these posts, as well as the numbers of their leaders' copious progeny:

Leader Country Biological Children Stepchildren
Alexander Van der Bellen Austria 2 0
Charles Michel Belgium 2 0
Rumen Radev Bulgaria 2 1
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović Croatia 2 0
Nicos Anastasiades Cyprus 2 0
Miloš Zeman Czech Republic 2 0
Lars Løkke Rasmussen Denmark 3 0
Kersti Kaljulaid Estonia 4 0
Sauli Niinistö Finland 3 0
Prokopis Pavlopoulos Greece 3 0
János Áder Hungary 4 0
Leo Varadkar Ireland 0 0
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca Malta 1 0
Andrzej Duda Poland 1 0
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa Portugal 2 0
Andrej Kiska Slovakia 5 0
Borut Pahor Slovenia 1 0
Pedro Sánchez Spain 2 0

The assertion that most European leaders are childless is false, and the claims presented by the Washington Examiner and Breitbart News cherry-picked countries, misstated facts, and ignored stepchildren in order to make dubious speculative points.


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Correction [28 November 2018]: Corrected to reflect that Leo Varadkar is the head of state in Ireland.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.