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Covid-19 Pandemic reduced birth rates especially in Portugal, Hungary, Italy and Spain

Newsroom, 31 Aug 2021 (Lusa) – The pandemic has been accompanied by a significant drop in gross birth rates in high-income countries, with particularly steep declines in southern Europe: Italy (-9.1%), Spain (-8 .4%) and Portugal (-6.6%).

This is the main conclusion of a study conducted by the Bocconi University of Italy and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, using numerical models and analyzing data from 22 countries.

To better assess the effect of this disease, the study authors collected monthly data from January 2016 to March 2021 from a total of 22 high-income countries.

The pandemic aggravated the declining birth rates in rich countries, with Italy seeing the sharpest decline in 2020. There were 16,000 fewer births and the country saw its birth rate reduce by 9.1%, according to a study of the Bocconi University of Milan published in PNAS magazine.

The study covered 22 countries (including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, USA, Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, Iceland, Israel).

“Countries like Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, where there is more generous welfare and individuals are less afraid of employment and income, there has been no decline in births,” study author Letizia Mencarini told Ansa news agency.

“Countries like Italy, Portugal and the USA, on the other hand, have had more repercussions due to the economic and employment uncertainties linked to the pandemic” she added. According to Mencarini, the pandemic further exacerbated the socio-economic inequalities especially among the youngest, who are more likely to postpone starting a family.

According to the models of the study, “which take into account the fertility trends already underway in the various countries (caused for example by a reduction in potential mothers), the most significant falls in births occurred in Italy (- 9.1% of born compared to 2019), Hungary (- 8.5%), Spain (- 8.4%), Portugal (- 6.6%)” Mencarini said.

For Italy, the months with the fewest births were December 2020 (3,500 fewer births compared to December 2019) and January 2021 (5,000 fewer births), with a decline in conception linked to the first pandemic wave.

While the average drop in births in the other months of 2020 compared to the same month in 2019 was 3%, in December it was 21%, and the same in January 2021.

Pandemics are a key driver of changes in human populations, affecting both mortality and birth rates.

The biggest pandemic of the last century, the so-called Spanish flu (1918-1919), caused birth rates in the United States to drop from 23 per 1,000 population in 1918 to 20 per 1,000 in 1919 (-13%).

Comparable effects were observed in countries such as the UK, India, Japan and Norway.

Preliminary data now suggest that the covid-19 pandemic has lowered the birth rate in high-income countries.

Furthermore, Belgium, Austria and Singapore also showed a significant decline in gross birth rates, according to this analysis.

However, the authors stress that the available data only provide information about the first wave and therefore “only give an idea of ​​the global decline during the pandemic”.

The data provide information on various phases of the first wave and indicate that in some countries, such as France and Spain, a recovery in birth rates was observed in March 2021 compared to June 2020.

For these countries, the month of June 2020 marked the point at which the first wave of the pandemic diminished, thus possibly reflecting a reversal.

According to the authors, the results reveal the impact of the pandemic on population dynamics and may have political implications for childcare, housing and the labour market.