Birth rates in Europe have declined rapidly since the start of lockdown, new figures show, prompting concern that the coronavirus is contributing to a "baby bust" across the continent.
Dr Diego Ramiro Fariñas, director of demographics at the Spanish National Research Council, says anxiety caused by the pandemic is causing couples to delay the decision to have children.
"This delay is important in societies such as Italy and Spain where mothers' ages at birth are already quite high", he told The National. "Delaying fertility decisions could result in a higher proportion of childless couples."
In France, there were 53,900 births in January 2021, a drop of 13 per cent in the space of a year, according to statistics agency Insee.
Meanwhile, year-on-year births in Italy plunged by 21.6 per cent in December, according to a survey released by statistics agency Istat. There were about 400,000 births, and 647,000 deaths for 2020, the largest gap between the two since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
Meanwhile, Spain has also seen similar falls. Only 23,226 babies were born in December, 20.4 per cent fewer than in December 2019 and the lowest since 1941, when such records started, the INE statistics agency said. However, the number of babies born in January 2021 edged up a little to 24,061.
INE linked the fall to Spain's lockdown, which was one of the strictest in Europe.
"Even though the number of births has been in a constant decline trend for several years, the fall has been accentuated nine months after the lockdown during the first state of [coronavirus] emergency," an INE statement said.
Spain's fertility rate, the second lowest in Europe after tiny Malta, is still suffering the consequences of the double-dip recession caused by financial and debt crises between 2008 and 2012.
Births there had already been falling pre-pandemic, posting a 16 per cent drop between 2014 and 2019.
A falling birth rate is expected to widen the gap between the richer north of Europe, where birth rates are higher, and the poorer south.
A study from June 2020 published by the London School of Economics showed 50 per cent of respondents in Spain were postponing their family plans due to the pandemic, compared with 30 per cent who were not.
That study said that people in countries with recent poor economic performance were less like to plan for a child in 2020.
"On the contrary, in southern European countries, and more dramatically in Italy, people are more often abandoning – and not simply postponing – their pre-crisis fertility plans", the study said.
Dr Ramiro Fariñas agreed with the analysis and says economic recessions go "hand in hand" with falling birth rates.
"The countries that were hardest hit by the 2008 Great Recession showed a sustained decline in fertility since that year, particularly for those without a job or with precarious employment," he said.
"The Covid-19 pandemic will not help the recovery of fertility rates but will further exacerbate that tendency."