Birth rate plummets by 50 per cent

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

The birth rate in Portugal has fallen to its lowest level in four decades, according to a recent study.

In 2009, fewer than 100,000 babies were born while, overall, the number of births has fallen by a half since the Baby Boom of the 1960s.

Portugal, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria and Latvia are the countries in the European Union with the lowest birth rates.

The consequences of this on future government abilities to collect taxes and pay for social and health services and pensions could prove catastrophic.

Portugal, in particular, has seen several waves of emigration in the past 50 years, as both highly qualified and manual workers have left the country for other EU countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom in search of higher wages and better prospects.

In October, Rui Vaz Osório, president of the National Commission for Birth Diagnosis (Comissão Nacional para o Diagnóstico Precoce), which carried out the study, anticipated that in 2010 the birth rate would fall to historic levels.

“There have never been so few people born in Portugal,” he said, blaming last year’s figures on the economic crisis, the disintegration of the concept of the family and different priorities among couples.

“Numbers have fallen consistently, with a few variations, over the years in many European countries,” agrees Maria João Valente Rosa, a demographic sociologist at Lisbon’s University Nova de Lisboa.

Up until the mid sixties, more than 200,000 babies per year were born in Portugal when at the time the country was considered as having an increasing birth rate. Now the sociologist says the opposite is true, but sees the decline with optimism. “This is the result of important social conquest,” she says. Part of the reason lies with the fact that more women have chosen to pursue a career deciding to have children later in life.

At the start of the 1980s, the average woman had her first child at 23 years of age, but now that has climbed up to 28.

Another issue is that women have less time to devote to children and want fewer children, opting for one or two rather than having large families.

“In 2000, births in Portugal stood at around 120,000 per year when jobs were more secure and spending high. Now, with the crisis, people are tightening their belts and this is being reflected in the birth rate,” says Ana Fernandes, a demographic sociologist at the same university.  

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