Baby bust: European countries report lowest birth rate in 80 years

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France, Italy, and Spain have seen a significant decline in the number of children born nine months after the introduction of the first coronavirus restrictions last year. In Spain, for example, December 2020 was the worst month ever in terms of the number of births since 1941 when the Spanish statistical office started to record the statistics, the Financial Times wrote on Wednesday.

According to preliminary data from the French National Institute for Statistics (Insee), 53,900 children were born in France in January this year, 13 percent less than in January 2020. France, which traditionally has the highest birth rate in the 27 European Union countries, also recorded the largest drop in births since 1975 when the baby boom ended. However, the year 2020 was already weak in terms of births. A total of 735,000 children were born in the country last year, the least since World War II.

The decline in the number of children born in industrial economies after pandemics or economic crises, such as the one in the 1930s or the oil crisis of 1973, usually comes as no surprise, wrote the Financial Times. In such cases, potential parents are concerned about whether they will have a secure income and will be able to provide for their children.

“But the new thing this time is that the drop in the number of new births is really big,” says Arnaud Regnier-Loilier, director of research at the French demographic institute Ined. Last year, he noted, people were not only worried about making a living but also feared that their children could be infected with COVID-19.

Preliminary data also show a significant decline in Spain and Italy, two countries already struggling with an aging population.

The largest gap between births and deaths since 1918

Italy, the first European country to feel the full weight of the COVID-19 crisis, reported 21.6 percent fewer births in December 2020, nine months after the spring restrictions than in the same month a year earlier.

In 2020, according to the Italian statistical office Istat, 400,000 children were born in the country, 20,000 less than in 2019. At the same time, 647,000 people died last year, which caused the largest gap in the number of births and deaths since 1918 when the world was gripped by the Spanish flu.

Italian statistics link the decline in the number of births to a smaller number of weddings last year. In the first ten months of 2020, their number decreased by about half. Last year, France also witnessed a 34 percent decrease in the number of weddings compared to 2019.

According to data from the Spanish statistical office, in December 2020 and January 2021, 20 percent fewer children were born in Spain than in the same months of previous years. December 2020 was the worst-performing month in Spain in terms of the number of births since 1941.

However, the trend in France, Italy, and Spain may not be global, the Financial Times stated. In the Philippines, for example, the pandemic seemed to have triggered a baby boom. As for European countries, the Netherlands and Finland also recorded an increase in births in January compared to the previous year.

The question is whether the fall in the birth rate in the affected countries is only a temporary fluctuation or whether it will continue. Teresa Castro, a demographer at the Spanish Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), thinks that the whole of 2021 could be weak in terms of births.

“I don’t think it’s a temporary phenomenon. Uncertainties are one of the main reasons why people don’t have children. And people are still facing challenges with health and, above all, the economy,” explains Castro.

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