Monday, July 4

It’s not a country for babies or baby checks

We knew about the tremendous effects of the coronavirus pandemic in many areas of life: public health, the health system, the economy, political polarization, the territorial model, the most diverse daily issues … Now we know details from another field of singular importance: demographics. Last week, the National Statistics Institute (INE) released the main Spanish demographic data for 2020, the first pandemic year. Among them, some as shocking as these:

  • The number of deaths rose 17.7%, reaching 492,930 in total. Not even going back to the worst years of the Civil War and the postwar period will we find similar data. The previous record of deaths was in 1938, during the war, with 484,940 deaths, according to official INE data. The greatest variations in 2020 compared to the previous year were in the worst months of the first and second waves of the pandemic: March (+ 56.8%), April (+ 78.2%), October (+ 21.0% ) and November (+ 21.6%).
  • Births fell 5.9% to only 339,206, the lowest number in many decades. To place ourselves: around half of those registered in the times of the baby boom of the seventies of the last century.
  • The fertility rate, which is the average number of children per woman of childbearing age, fell to 1.18, also the lowest in many decades. Experts say that the replacement rate, necessary to guarantee generational replacement and population stability, is 2.1. We are, therefore, in little more than half of what we need.
  • The fertility rate for women of Spanish nationality was only 1.12, compared to 1.37 for women of foreign nationality. In other words: once again, immigrants partially alleviated the problem. Without them, the situation would be even more complicated.
  • The vegetative growth of the resident population was not growth but the opposite: decrease. Subtracting births from deaths, 153,167 fewer people in one year.

The fine print in some of these fields is even more alarming. For example: the months in which the births collapsed. The birth rate, which was already clearly sliding downward in the first three quarters of the year, with falls each month of between -1% and -6%, plummeted in November (-10.9%) and especially December (-21.5%), nine months after the non-pregnancies of the first weeks of hard confinement.

With health and economic fears installed in couples, the trend, predictably, will be similar this year. Everything indicates that fewer babies will continue to be born in 2021. “We will have peaks and valleys, which will coincide, accounting, with the different waves of the pandemic, but probably this year 2021 the number of births will be even lower than in 2020”, comments Ignacio Molina de la Torre, geographer at the University of Valladolid and now an advisor to the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, led by Vice President Teresa Ribera.

Calendar coincidences. The same day that the INE made its data public, last June 17, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, in her inauguration speech as president of the Community of Madrid, announced a plan to promote the birth rate based on direct economic incentives. An aid for pregnant women under 30 years of age and with an income threshold of up to 30,000 euros per year, who would receive 500 euros per month, from the fifth month of pregnancy to the baby’s two years of age: total, up to 14,500 euros for each new son. The project has some controversial political and technical aspects. The political controversy: to qualify for aid, it will be necessary to prove ten years of registration in Madrid: to leave out the vast majority of immigrant women? The technical, and perhaps also political controversy: for women up to 30 years of age despite the fact that the average age at maternity in Spain is 32.3 years?

Controversies aside, most experts today believe that baby checks hardly contribute to the promotion of births if they are not accompanied by other measures that are less cyclical and of greater significance. Neither the baby checks on the right nor the ones on the left. The socialist president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero approved in 2007 a more open plan – there was no age limit on mothers, and they had to prove residence in Spain of at least two years – and of a lower economic amount – 2,500 euros at one time per baby birth- that didn’t leave much of a trace in demographics. Well, it left a very curious one: some 2,000 women advanced their delivery before the end of 2011 – when the aid was going to end – to cash the baby check, according to an investigation with official statistics carried out by Libertad González, an economist at Pompeu Fabra University.

And what would be those less circumstantial measures that would help to recover the birth rate in Spain and correct demographic imbalances. “Housing policies for young people, less precarious employment, more extended basic services – such as nurseries -, hours and averages for reconciling family and work life …”, lists Molina de la Torre at once. And to recover a “regular, orderly and safe” immigration, which will come, in his opinion, with the economic recovery. “We are going to be a country of net immigration,” he assures.

He’s not the only one who thinks about it. As we recalled here, a body as little suspicious of left-wing extremism as the IMF recommended to Spain three years ago, in the summer of 2018, that it take in 5.5 million foreigners until 2050 to make our public pension system sustainable. .

Two more data for reflection. One: 11.4% of the Spanish population is of foreign nationality. Two: 22.5% of babies born in 2020 in Spain were of a foreign mother.