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Rebirth of a nation: figures hint at Covid ‘baby boom’

  • Number of births in Ireland rose by more than 3,000 last year after being in decline for more than a decade
  • First time that there has been an annual increase since 2009

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Other factors could be that couples held off having a child as the pandemic first hit, meaning they were then pregnant at the end of 2020 or early 2021. Photo: Stock image

Other factors could be that couples held off having a child as the pandemic first hit, meaning they were then pregnant at the end of 2020 or early 2021. Photo: Stock image

Other factors could be that couples held off having a child as the pandemic first hit, meaning they were then pregnant at the end of 2020 or early 2021. Photo: Stock image

The number of births in Ireland rose by more than 3,000 last year after being in decline for more than a decade, suggesting the Covid pandemic triggered a ‘baby boom’.

HSE figures show 59,874 babies were born in maternity hospitals and units across the country in 2021, up from 56,858 in 2020.

It is the first time that there has been an annual increase since 2009, when there were 75,554 births registered.

That was in the teeth of the economic crash, suggesting a national crisis which changes people’s lifestyles or outlook may also impact on the birth rate. Adele Bergin, associate research professor in the ESRI, said a higher birth rate here would have an impact on society.

“Higher birth rates would lead to a higher natural increase in the population which, in turn, will help boost the potential labour force in the future,” she said.

Asked about the impact of pandemics or other crises on birth rates, she said: “Generally recessions often lead to a decline in fertility rates, although this is often temporary and can reflect a postponement of childbearing.”

She also pointed out that the crude birth rate in most European countries has been either broadly stable or declining slightly from 2009 to 2019-2020.

The trend for more births in Ireland last year was also picked up by the Central Statistics Office.

Its latest set of figures show that in quarter three last year, there were 16,747 births registered, which was 2,270 higher than the same period in 2020.

This corresponded to a birth rate of 13.4 per 1,000 population, an increase of 1.8 per thousand from quarter 3, 2020.

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The highest number of births registered in the third quarter was in Dublin city and Cork county, with the lowest in Leitrim.

Some 77.2pc of mothers who gave birth to babies in the third quarter of last year were themselves born in Ireland.

Asked to comment on the turnaround in births here, two leading sociologists said several factors are probably driving the increase. However, they acknowledged that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic may be having a profound effect.

Jo Murphy Lawless of NUI Galway said the response to deaths during the worst of the pandemic could have released a new generosity and appreciation of living and new life.

“People lined the routes at funerals and wept. There is no way that people could not be affected by this. I think a generous impulse and a generosity around life has come out of it.”

There are instances in history where a similar phenomenon happened – and after the Famine, while there were low rates of marriage, the number of children born in families overall increased.

Dr Carmel Hannan of the Department of Sociology in the University of Limerick said: “As people come back to normality they celebrate life in lots of ways, from holidays to births. People’s life perspective can have changed.”

Other factors could be that couples held off having a child as the pandemic first hit, meaning they were then pregnant at the end of 2020 or early 2021.

It is known that many marriages had to be postponed due to Covid restrictions, which may also have had an impact on the way statistics played out.

Lockdowns and the fact that couples were spending more time together, while working from home, is likely to also have played a role.

 


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