Background: This study examines whether social age deadlines exist for childbearing in women and men, how they vary across countries, whether they are lower than actual biological deadlines and whether they are associated with childbearing at later ages and the availability of assisted reproduction techniques (ARTs). Methods This study is based on the European Social Survey, Round 3 (20062007), which covers 25 countries. Data were gathered on social age deadlines for childbearing in women (21 909 cases) and men (21 239 cases) from samples of representative community-dwelling populations aged 15 and older. Results Social age deadlines for childbearing were perceived more frequently for women than men. These deadlines are often lower than actual biological limits, and for women and men alike: 57.2 of respondents perceived a maternal social age deadline ≤40 years of age; 46.2 of the respondents perceived a paternal social age deadline ≤45 years of age. There is also considerable variability in deadlines across countries, as well as within them. At the country level, the presence of social age deadlines for the childbearing of women was negatively associated with birth rates at advanced ages and the prevalence of ART, and later deadlines were positively associated with these factors. Conclusions It is important to understand the factors that increase and limit late fertility. While biological factors condition fertility, so do social expectations. These findings provide widespread evidence across Europe that social limits exist alongside biological ones, though both sets of factors are more binding for women. © 2011 The Author.