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EU records lowest birthrate amid a steady 60-year decline

Besides fewer women giving birth in the EU, more women are choosing to have children later in life.

(CN) — The birth rate declined across the European Union in 2020, hitting a 60-year low of 4 million births, according to data published by Eurostat on Thursday.

The EU averaged 1.5 births per person in 2020, with a low of 1.13 in Malta and a high of 1.83 in France. European fertility has largely declined since the 1960s. Compared to 1970, when 16.4 babies were born for every 1,000 persons, the crude birth rate dropped to 9.1 in 2020.

As overall births declined, women also began having children at later ages, averaging 29.5 years old. Bulgaria reported the youngest average of first-time moms, 26.4 years old, while Italy reported the oldest, 31.4 years old.

"While the fertility rates of women aged less than 30 in the EU have declined since 2001, those of women aged 30 and over have risen. In 2001, the fertility rate of women aged 25-29 years old was highest among all the age groups,” the report explained. “In 2020, the fertility rate of women aged 30-34 became the highest."

Women in the U.S. are also opting to give birth later in life, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Looking at the last 30 years, the agency found 43% fewer woman ages 20 to 24 giving birth, while 67% more women gave birth between the ages of 35 and 39.

Then the nation recorded a 4% drop in births in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2020 study published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics even found Google searches for fertility keywords like "pregnancy test" and "morning sickness" fell dramatically that year.

It’s not uncommon for births to decline in times of economic turmoil, but new research indicates the pandemic baby drop was relatively short lived.

Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College, analyzed the impact of the pandemic economy on fertility for the Brookings Institute. Levine said federal aid packages helped soften household economic struggles while lessening impacts on the birth rate.

“There was a rebound in births subsequent to that 2020 drop, so I'm not really convinced Covid-19 has had much of an impact on births in the United States,” Levine said. “Whatever those changes are, there they pale in comparison to the longer trend: births are down 20% since 2007.”

The U.S. birthrate began falling during the Great Recession and has not stopped.

Levine has a long list of explanations he has investigated and ruled out from the prevalence of quality birth control to rising costs of childcare and housing.

“It’s a puzzle,” Levine said. “None of those things fit that pattern.”

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