Ireland’s Covid baby-bust is here

There were almost 4,000 ‘missing births’ in 2020 compared with 2019. Even allowing for declining fertility in Ireland, that is a big drop for one year, and it was mainly caused, of course, by the pandemic. The effect of the pandemic on births will probably show up even more this year.

Vital statistics for 2020 released by the CSO last week show that whereas in 2019 there were 59,796 births, last year this had fallen to 55,959, a drop of 3,837.

To have a baby before the end of last year, you would need to have become pregnant by the end of March, and that is when the first lockdown began. But if lockdown and the financial and other uncertainties it caused made people think twice about trying to become pregnant through April, May, June and most of the rest of last year, then we will see most of the effect of that this year.

A fall in the number of births has also been seen in other countries. And a big drop in the number of weddings, for obvious reasons.

Here in Ireland, the number fell from 20,313 in 2019, to just 9,523 last year. This will also delay people trying to have children, because most couples still wait until they are married before they have children, although that is much less the case than it once was.

In some instances, the couple may never be able to have children, because people now are often well into their 30s before tying the knot. The biological clock may have literally run out by the time they decide to try and start a family.

When things finally get back to normal, there will certainly be a surge in couples marrying, and after that a mini-baby-boom.

But it also likely, by the time the dust is fully settled, that there will be still thousands of babies never born that is normal times, would have been born. That is not a good thing for all the couples who wished to have children, and now may never see that wish fulfilled, and it is also a very bad thing for a society that is rapidly ageing.