Business World

Monday 22 October 2018

Baby blues - no EU nation will replace itself on current trend

Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Rich Europeans are having more babies than those in the poorest member states, with Sweden and the UK joining France and Ireland in having the highest fertility rates, while southern and eastern European countries are producing the fewest babies.

Across Europe, no country is producing enough children to replace their parents.

France, where pro-family tax policies have been in place for more than a decade, is the nearest thing to an anomaly. Figures compiled by Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, show the country recorded both the highest absolute number of births - 799,700 in 2015, and the highest fertility rate.

At 1.96 children on average per Frenchwoman, the country is just off the 2.1 child-per-woman rate needed for natural population increase.

While the standard ratio only counts children per mother, the magic 2.1 level is enough to reproduce two parents, and add to the overall population.

In Ireland, which was long Europe's baby capital, the numbers of children born has slipped behind France, and below the replacement rate.

In France, so called pro-fertility policies such as free post-natal care, subsidised daycare, allowances for each child and special discounts on many services for large families have helped the country escape the demographic declines of Italy and Germany.

But the trend is still challenged.

The Eurostat data shows the fertility rate here was 1.92 in 2015, just behind France. In 2001, the Irish rate was 1.94 and France's was 1.90.

Ireland's declining fertility is now a relative outlier in the EU. Nineteen of the 27 member states have higher birth rates now than at the turn of the century.

Even so, the average fertility rate across the EU was just 1.58 in 2015, well below replacement level.

Big countries, and economies, like German (1.50) and Italy (1.35) are well short of even that.

And in many cases, Europe's poorer east and south fare even worse.

Poland, Cyprus, and Portugal all have a fertility rate of 1.32 or less.

The Germany population is on course to shrink by between eight million and 13 million by 2060 as the numbers dying outpace those being born.

The resulting shift in demographics will see the German working population decline from 60pc to 50pc of the total population.

That has huge implications for the cost of pensions and healthcare, the consumer base, and economic participation rates.

The German birthrate for 2015 is actually the highest level in 33 years. The rate was 1.5 births per woman in 2015 was up from 1.47 births a year earlier, and the highest figure since 1982 when it was 1.51. It was also the highest rate recorded since the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany.

The German Federal Statistics Office said last year that the figures had been boosted mainly by babies born to migrant women.

The number of babies born in Italy hit a record low in 2016, the population shrank and the average age crept higher, national statistics office ISTAT said earlier this year.

Births are now at the lowest level since the unification of Italy in 1861.

The average age of Italians is now 44.9 years - and 22.3pc of the population is over 65.

That is the highest ratio in the EU, but, based on the trends across much of the Union, set eventually to become the norm. (Additional reporting Reuters)

Irish Independent

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