In this article I tease out the statistics on births in Ireland. My purpose is to examine the trends in the number of births, the marital statuses of mothers, the average ages of mothers, and the nationality of mothers & parents.
Firstly, we are having fewer children. You can see this below.
From a high of about 20,000 births in Q1 2011 we are now at just over 17,000 as of Q1 2015. This is quite a large fall and may stem from a number of causes: improving economy, negative net migration, high childcare costs, or a change in preferences (I do not get into these here but contact me if you want to learn more).
Either way, our maternity hospitals experienced some respite in recent years when compared with the previous four years from Q1 2007. And within those hospitals, we can also observe trends relating to births within marriage and births outside marriage. See below.
Between Q1 2011 and Q1 2015, the number of births within marriage fell by 17% and the number of births outside marriage fell by 8%. Married couples are having fewer children or none at all. And cohabiting couples or lone parents are also having fewer children; it is just that they are not reducing their rate at the same pace.
On top this we can also look at the average ages of mothers in Ireland. This is shown below.
The average age of all ‘types’ of mothers has been increasing at quite a fast pace. Between 2007 (before the recession) and 2014 (after the recession), the average age of first-time mothers increased by 1.7 years, the average age of mothers generally increased by 1.2 years, and the average age of first time mothers outside marriage increased by 2.4 years. But what explains these rapid changes? It could be due to women to the workforce losing jobs during the recession, women in the workforce afraid to leave it during the recession, younger women having fewer children, or negative net migration of women who might otherwise become mothers.
As the country’s economy improves, it will be interesting to see whether, and how, the average ages of our mothers (first-time and generally) changes. But this analysis assumes that women choose to control becoming a mother. For young women and teens, who may not have planned their pregnancy, that choice is largely removed. The graph below shows trends in the number of births for mothers aged 16 to 21.
There has been a huge decline in the number of women under 22 having children. In fact, between 2008 and 2014, the number of births to mothers aged less than 22 fell by 43%. We do not know what is driving this: it could fewer women of that age, a greater tendency to travel for abortions, or state-led sexual education drives in schools. Whatever the reason, trends like those above reduce the demand for specific services tailored to young mothers.
But this is a generalised analysis. In the graph below, we can see the average ages of mothers (first-time and generally) on a county-by-county basis.
Mothers (first-time and generally) are, on average, oldest in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and youngest in Limerick City. The detail here is insufficient for us to make definitive observations. More data would be needed. A case in point is that of Leitrim, shown below.
As shown, the average age of first time mothers was 32 in 2013 and 30 in 2014. Why?
1. Perhaps there was a marked increase in births by young mothers;
2. Perhaps economic factors within the county led to younger women having more children;
3. Perhaps returning emigrants under 30 were settling down and electing to have children.
Good public policy looks at a trend like this and examines what is driving it. An appropriate policy would be to increase the number of public health nurses within the county. These nurses would be of particular help to younger mothers. However, although looking at the trend is retrospective, the nature of pregnancy means we can see these trends nine months in advance. Hence being prepared for emerging trends is an important policy in itself.
But we can plan policy much better than that. An efficient healthcare system provides the same level of capacity seven days a week. Whereas accidents cannot be controlled, labour, in many ways, can. Below we can see that, in 2012, births were most likely to take place on a Thursday.
Thursdays were 40% busier than Sundays. This is inefficient if we can want a 7-day healthcare system (the Department of Health's aim): achieving this would mean ensuring that capacity and service are, respectively, best utilised and provided. This can mean deciding that elective caesarian sections are dealt with at weekends such that the number of births taking place each day is equal.
But whatever about controlling births, we cannot control the nationalities of our mothers and fathers. As shown below, 23% of mothers are not Irish.
This has policy implications for up to a decade after giving birth. It means that 1 in 4 mothers are giving birth in a country alien to them and in which they do not have immediate family roots. It means that if these women do decide to work, then childcare will be more likely to be necessary. And due to the expense of this, working is less appealing.
In other words: 23% of mothers, because they are less likely to have parents or siblings to help care for their children, are pushed out of the workforce due to high childcare costs. Of course, Irish mothers also face the same costs, but the difference is that some of these can rely on family childminding.
In addition, we can also look at births by whether the parents are married or not and by nationality. In the case of all nationality groups, children were more likely to be born to a couple inside marriage.
Of most interest is that 80% of birth to mothers from outside the EU took place inside marriage. This is not surprising. Mothers from outside the EU may be from more traditional cultures, may have visas dependent on marriage, and may be having more children once married, hence pushing up the average.
From a policy perspective, this also provides mothers and fathers from outside the EU with better security if the relationship breaks down in a country somewhat alien to them. Closer pre-breakdown ties may increase the likelihood of maintenance payments and civility in visitation agreements.
In other words, because 80% of births to mothers from outside the EU take place within marriage, the state may have fewer costs if these relationships break down than if another relationship breaks down, all things held equal (e.g. the likelihood one partner leaves the jurisdiction).
This leads us to a final point: who are our mothers and fathers. The chart below shows the nationality combinations of these people in 2012.
The charts above shows the following:
The main conclusion from this is striking: only about a half of all children are being born to parents who are both Irish. The multiculturalization of the next generation is underway.
A second point is that one in six children are being born to an Irish mother and a father whose nationality is not stated or unknown. We should be making better efforts to ensure fathers, so far as is possible, can be identified. We should be spending money on such efforts in the short-term in order to ensure that the state does not have to shoulder long-term costs.
Also, the presumed absence of the father’s family, in a country with high childcare costs, means entering the workforce for these women (lone – female – parents), will be more difficult.
We can now state that high childcare costs will push mothers from outside Ireland out of the workforce and also push lone parenting mothers out of the workforce. Childcare structures therefore mean that mothers in the workforce are proportionately most likely to be Irish and in a relationship, irrespective of their greater absolute number.
All of these statistics tell us several different stories, with the main points identified at the start of this article. The main conclusion is that policymakers are not looking at these statistics. If they did, our maternity care system, our post-natal care system, our childcare system, our language support system, and our births registration system could better efficiencies and results .
Note: at 15/09/2015 all data is the most recent available.