Bishop Martin Seeley finds an expectated lockdown baby boom did not come to pass
I had fully expected that there would be a lockdown baby-boom.
It is probably not helpful to explore why I thought that, but it turns out I wasn’t alone in thinking that the conditions were almost bound to lead to a noticeable increase in births in the first couple of months of this year.
It has just been reported on the news that there was not a boom in births, so clearly others thought there might have been, to make that newsworthy.
In fact, birth rates in December and January were sharply down on the same months the year before.
However, it turns out that there has been an increase, a slight increase in births in March this year compared with March last year – so an increase in babies conceived as the lockdown restrictions were being eased.
And maybe that does make sense. Births are a sign of hope, a sign that we believe there is a future for which it is worth creating new life.
At the start of lockdown, which was a huge shock to us all, the future may have looked very unclear, but the easing of the first lockdown gave us all a sense of hope – and so a time to make babies.
It will be interesting to see what sort of fluctuations in birth rates there are in the next year or so.
But there is another side to this: last year there were more deaths in our country than births, for this first time for forty years, since 1976, and only the second time since the late 1890s.And that is only partly due to the tragic number of deaths from the coronavirus.
The fact is the fertility rate has been steadily decreasing and is now at a level that means our society is considered to be ‘ageing’.
The Office of National Statistics says the birth rate is going down because people are having children later in life and fewer of them.
While the main reason for declining birth rates during the past 50 years has been in part the availability of contraception, there is also a connection between birth rates and the state of the economy.
When the economy is felt to be in good shape, people have babies.
Which is about hope again.
The populations of several countries in Europe are ‘ageing’. Portugal’s population has been declining since 2008, Italy’s since 2017, and now Germany’s is expected to peak this year and then decline.
It is hard to tell what will happen to the UK’s population, which has been showing continued growth despite the decline in birth rate, because of net migration.
Significant reductions in immigration will mean a declining population.
What does this mean for us, to become an ageing population? It means first of all we must ensure that all ages are cared for, and that we provide the best care for our elders.
And secondly, we need to look at the foundations for hope in our lives and the life of our society, so that hope is on a surer footing than the fluctuations of the economy, or the transient experience of an easing lockdown.
- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic