Late children

Rafael Puyol. Vicepresident. IE Foundation

8 March 2012

Late motherhood has become the norm in Spanish society, resulting in a fall in the number of children in Spanish families, which could lead to a shrinking population.

The English Protestant pastor, Robert Malthus, one of the great thinkers in the field of demographics, recommended late marriage to regulate the size of the population. This, coupled with what he called moral continence, namely a certain level of abstinence, was a surefire method of ensuring that couples did not have too many children. Being a pastor he practiced what he preached, marrying at 38 with a woman of 28, in spite of which they had 3 children.

How could this first great expert in matters of population have ever imagined that late marriage and having children late would become par for the course in Spanish society? The fundamental difference is that he advocated this approach to bring down the birth rate, while now, people are marrying and having children late in a low birth rate scenario.

Take a look at the Spain’s latest birth rate figures. The 460,000 births that are estimated to take place in 2011 mean that the average number of children a woman in Spain will give birth to in her lifetime currently stands at 1.3. This means that we are falling very short of the number needed to renew generations (2.1 children per woman).

The underlying reasons for this scant number of births are varied, but they include the average age at which women are now having their first child, which has been increasing for the last 25 years, and today stands at 31.3 years old.

Obviously, when the first child is born so late, not many more come after. Malthus’s recommendation is now a day to day reality. Of course women can have children at thirty something or even forty something, but that is not what usually happens. The “few children late” model looks set for the duration, and it will be very difficult to change it. And something should be done, because it is not good for Spain.

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