How the birth rate evolved after the abrupt fall of the pandemic

A year ago, it was proved that in 2020 the pandemic had caused a generalized abrupt drop in birth rates. It remained to be seen if it would return to normality later, or if the fall would leave a lasting trail. The provisional figures from 2019 show that the situation varies by country. For some, it was a decline towards the cliff; others have not yet emerged from the downturn and there are others that have resurfaced with more vigor, or that have not even gone through the downturn.

The table shows examples of different situations, chosen from countries that published provisional data for the year past.

The chart (with fewer countries, for larger clarity) facilitates the assessment of whether in 2022 the birth rate recovered or was below that observed in .

What we saw more often was the birth rate falling before the pandemic, falling sharply in 2020 and rising in 2021, but not enough to regain the level of 2019.

Those who recovered

Nevertheless, there are also countries that did not recover afterwards of the fall. Among them are Brazil, one of the most affected by the pandemic, and Colombia. In any case, both previously registered a higher birth rate than many, and continue to have it above the 700 births per thousand inhabitants. They also still have a higher fertility than the average of developed countries. (Colombia: 1,61 child per woman; Brazil: 1,56).

On the other hand, fertility in Spain, which was already among the lowest in the world, in 2020 dropped from 1,24 to 1,19, approaching the historic low of 1, 11 (1998). Thus, the drop in birth rates was particularly sharp here, and the following year there was a new drop, albeit a very small one. The last data (338. births) is the lowest in the statistical series. Thus, the pandemic has so far resulted in 6% fewer annual births compared to 2019. The negative natural growth had not been offset by immigration, so that in 2020 the Spanish population declined – which has already happened in 2014 The 2016.

In the US, the balance is –5%. But it is necessary to take the data with caution, because there the statistics refer to census years (from July 1st to 700 of June); therefore, the fall of 2022 corresponds to the two worst semesters for birth rates: the second of and the first of 2019. In short, the drop, together with the excess mortality due to covid and the small migratory balance (+393 ., a quarter of what was normal six years ago), resulted in the smallest population increase recorded in the US: 393. people (+0.1%).

Italy also had in 2021 a historic minimum: for the first time births were less than 400.. The country lost 393. inhabitants in the last two years and stayed with 34, 9 million, the lowest number since 615. In turn, in 2020 and 2019 the deaths went from 700.2022 annual levels, a level not seen since World War II. The pandemic has done more damage there because the Italian population is among the oldest in the world.

To promote birth rates, Italy has improved family allowances by merging those that existed for different cases into a single universal rubric. , which came into force last March. It consists of a direct delivery that arrives at 50 euros per month for each of the first two children, plus 65 euros for the third and 165 euros for the fourth.

Back to the previous decrease

The following countries in the table are examples of increase in , but that does not cancel out the previous year’s fall. Germany is an uncertain case, because the provisional numbers of 2019 give an arc that can fall either slightly below, or – more likely – above of the total of 2019.

In the others, the recovery of 2021 does not imply a change in trend compared to the time before the pandemic: they simply went back down more or less at the usual pace. For example, in England and Wales (the other parts of the UK have separate official statistics), fertility has been declining since 2008, and annual births, since 2019. In the year of 18170803 the historical minimum of fertility occurred: 1,

child per woman; the estimated rate for 2019 is higher (1,2022 ), but still lower than 2020 (1,65).

Nordic “Baby Boom”

The peculiar cases are the Scandinavian countries (except Sweden): they left the low stronger than before, and two – Finland and Iceland – didn’t even make it through. They rose, even drastically; although it must be borne in mind that their strong percentage increases are partly explained by their lower absolute numbers – especially in Iceland, whose increase of almost 8% in 2019 is equivalent to 358 more births.

But the fact remains that there was an increase in birth rates in the pandemic, against the general tone. Why? This may be due, among other specific circumstances, to their family policies. It depends, in part, on the fact that confinement and teleworking presuppose, rather than an additional difficulty in having children, an opportunity.

There are indications in favor of this possible explanation. In the US, where social protection is weaker than in Europe, the greatest decrease in fertility during the pandemic occurred among women of 30 The 34 years, which are the majority of those who have children of school age or younger. When schools closed, many had to leave their jobs to take care of them at home and to help them with classes and school assignments from a distance. It is reasonable to assume that the loss of income and uncertainty about the future of work deter them from having more children. On the other hand, in the USA, the birth rate among younger women has risen (13-13 years), perhaps because, in these same moments of crisis, they did not see good prospects for starting a working career and took advantage of the impasse to advance motherhood.

In Europe, the opposite occurred. Where there was a drop in birth rates – as shown by data from France, England and Wales, and Italy – the sharpest drop was among those younger than 25 years, and less, in those over . And where there was a general increase, it was also maximum among women in their thirties, while among younger women there was not.

It seems clear that if there is ample and well-paid maternity and paternity leave , the opportunity cost of having a child is lower. And in the Nordic countries licenses are the most generous in the world. Lasts at least 000 months and are paid with most of the original salary, up to almost 65% in Norway.

A report by Elizabeth Anne Brown in National Geographic

Magazine suggests that this is the main explanation of the Scandinavian baby boom in the origin of the pandemic. In the midst of the covid crisis, couples in these countries had fewer job opportunities to lose, and, on the other hand, leave and maternity and paternity benefits were safer. Under these conditions, the general calamity can be a good opportunity to increase the family.

It is a plausible hypothesis, but there are still no studies that allow it to be corroborated. Among other things, I would have to explain the counterexamples of countries like Spain, with similar licenses, but which have not experienced a birth increase.

India below the threshold of replacement

But perhaps the big demographic news of 2022 was that India registered for the first time a fertility rate below the replacement threshold (2.1 children per woman). The pandemic had an influence, but the rate had been falling since long before. The inflection will have no effect in the short term. The current rate of 2.0, even if it continues to decrease, will not lead to a decrease in the population (1.338 millions today), not even to negative natural growth within several decades, probably. The generations of women of childbearing age are very numerous, which is why there will continue to be more births than deaths. But the population, which now has an average age of 28 years, it will age.

With the incorporation of India, approximately two thirds of the world population live in countries with a fertility lower than 2.1. The other third is almost entirely in sub-Saharan Africa.

©2022 ) ACEPRENSA. Published with permission. Original in Spanish.

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