Britain’s birthrate is falling.
The Economic and Social Research Council-funded Centre for Population Change is predicting a “decline over the next three years leading to significantly fewer births annually compared to pre-pandemic”. Birthrates were already dropping to “historically low levels” pre-Covid, lower than in the 1930s depression. Without official figures yet, the centre has been counting pregnant women attending 12-week scans. Holding the population steady needs a birthrate of 2.1 babies per woman. That had already fallen to 1.6 last year in England and Wales – but now it’s predicted that it could collapse to 1.45 by 2023.
A rapidly ageing country is fraught with economic problems ahead, where the taxes of fewer people of working age pay for the pensions and care of the old, neglecting the needs of the young.
The number of babies born in 2019 was down a startling 12.2% on 2012.
Some expected a Covid baby boom, but the Centre for Population Change is sceptical: parents have been under extreme stress, home schooling while holding down jobs and without other family support – plus there has been fear of catching Covid while pregnant and 200,000 postponed weddings. Young people retreated to live with parents to save rent while working from home or after losing jobs. Without a secure roof and certainty of food on the table, people dare not have babies.
Some other countries face even lower birthrates: Japan, Italy and Spain expect their populations to halve by the end of the century. Immigration has plugged the gap so far, but this government’s policies and Brexit make Britain less attractive.
A dearth of babies is no answer to solving the climate crisis.