Portugal President concerned about falling birth rate

by CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Portugal’s birth rate has plummeted to its lowest level since records began.

The worrying trend provoked a birth rate conference last week at the invitation of Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva.

He said its aim was not to “announce measures or solutions”, but to bring together experts in the field to discuss the problem.

In 2010, there were 101,800 births registered nationwide while in 91 municipal districts only 52 births were registered, or one baby a week.

The economic crisis, the cost of rearing children, and the fact that most women go out to work have all been cited as factors behind the plummeting birth rate.

And according to the president of the Portuguese Demographic Association (Associação Portuguesa de Demografia), Portugal has one of the oldest populations in the world.

Maria Filomena Mendes also said that because of the crisis it was expected the birth rate would increase among older women.

On the other hand, younger couples showed a tendency to put off starting a family because of the economic uncertainty.  

According to the latest data from the Portuguese National Statistics Institute (INE) for 2010, there were actually five municipalities where the average number of births per month stood at just one.

The 30 locations with the lowest birth rates in one year included Corvo, Azores (three), Alcoutim, inland Algarve (11), Fronteira, inland Alentejo (12) and Barrancos, inland Alentejo (15).

Portugal’s interior and the remote islands of the Azores registered the lowest birth rate, in part because of extremely low levels of population density.

At the opposite end of the scale were, not surprisingly, cities like Lisbon (6,236), Sintra (4,479), and Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto (2,993).

Nationwide, the birth rate registered a slight increase in 2010 with the birth of 101,800 babies, 1,900 more than in 2009. However, it wasn’t enough to counterbalance the number of deaths: 105,954.

And this winter’s low temperatures have been responsible for a marked increase in the number of deaths among the elderly, sick and homeless.

More people died in the past two weeks in Portugal than in the same period last year with the cold and flu being the main causes.

According to data from the Ricardo Jorge National Health Institute (INSA), 2,800 people died in the second week of February – 200 more than for the same period in 2011.

Various local authorities have created incentives for couples to have more children, an example being Vila Velha de Ródão, which is one of the country’s regions that has most suffered from depopulation.

According to the 2011 Census, only 3,521 people live in the district while in 2010 only 17 babies were born.

“We help out families by paying for crèches and offering €2,500 grants to those prepared to restore houses to live in for personal use,” says Maria do Carmo Sequeira, president of the Câmara.

In Murça, the local authority offers €750 for each baby that is born. Since 2007, there have only been 127 births.

In the Algarve, the district with the lowest birth rate is Alcoutim (11 births in 2010) and the local authority offers cheap crèche services with a range of free cultural and sporting activities for children.

No drama

At the conference Nascer em Portugal – Roteiros do Futuro (‘Birth in Portugal – Routes for the Future’), in which the press was fenced off in a closed room without access to the head of state, it was said he wanted to “bring together experts in the field to discuss a problem that worried him”.

“If children aren’t born, our collective future is at risk”, he said.

This was roundly rebuffed by sociologist António Barreto, president of the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation, who told the conference: “There is no imminent drama or catastrophe over the birth rate.

“There is no need to start producing children as was done in former times. Societies change and yes, today there are a lot less children born in Portugal, but those who are born survive; infant mortality rates are very low.”

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