A woman and a pushchair at Narinkkatori Square in Helsinki on 22 March 2019. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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FINLAND will find itself in an entirely new demographic situation no matter the measures taken by the next government, says Anna Rotkirch, a research professor at the Population Research Institute.

Statistics Finland has reported that the number of births fell by 980 year-on-year to 14,676 between January and April, representing the continuation of a downward trend that began in the 2010s and has intensified since 2015.

Rotkirch on Thursday stated that the decline has continued for so long that it can no longer be shrugged off as a statistical blip or even a temporary phenomenon.

“It’s very likely that this will be a real change in child statistics,” she stated during an event organised by the Finnish Association of Business School Graduates. “The change has went on for so long that no matter what we do now – even if everyone in their 30s started giving birth to triplets – we’d be in a new situation in terms of the demographic trend.”

“Our entire population structure has changed.”

“Finland has changed very rapidly over the past ten years. As a researcher, I think the issue is challenging and fascinating, because we don’t yet know the reason for the drop in the fertility rate,” she added.

The total fertility rate – or the mean number of children a woman would give birth to during her lifetime if she passed through her childbearing years conforming to the age-specific fertility rates – has decreased noticeably in all age groups in Finland since 2010. The decline has been dramatic particularly in the 20–25 and 30–34 age groups.

“When a Finn turns 30, two-thirds of women and four-fifths of men are still childless,” highlighted Rotkirch.

“The drop in the total fertility across age groups is a puzzling special characteristic of Finland. In other countries, you can see the phenomenon that people are postponing having children, meaning they won’t have children at the age of 23 but will at the age of 33. There are no indications that this is what’s happening in Finland. The decline is one-of-a-kind.”

Although most Finns continue to have children, the share of those who choose not to is growing, for one reason or another.

Researchers at the Population Research Institute initially viewed that the trend could be attributable to the financial crisis that erupted in 2008. As the process of starting a family usually takes a year or two, the drop caused by the crisis should have been evident around 2010. The rate, however, has continued to decline in spite of the economic situation improving.

“The same situation can be seen in a number of other economically advanced, wealthy countries. [The decline] is continuing even though the economic situation is better, which raises questions and concerns about what will happen when the next crisis or recession hits,” said Rotkirch.

Finland, she added, is interesting also from a global perspective because it is one of the countries on the frontline in the transition towards a low-fertility age.

“We’re the new Japan of Europe,” she summarised. “Our total fertility rate is currently lower than in Japan, it’s lower than in Estonia, and it’s lower than in Russia. We’re part of the trend, and not a single population researcher can yet tell why the birth rate is dipping in wealthy countries with sound family policies.”

The development is deemed to pose social challenges particularly if the fertility rate slips below 1.6 children per woman. Finnish women are projected to give birth to an average of 1.41 children during their lifetime based on data from last year.

“For those who say it’s good that the birth rate is dropping, I’d like to ask who will take care of you once you’re old and who’ll pay your pensions? We should talk about this more and do so directly,” said Rotkirch.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Source: Uusi Suomi

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