Figures from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) concerning the birth rate and the quality of healthcare provided to mothers make for positive reading. The threat posed by an economically unbalanced, aging population, has been kept at bay while infant mortality rates continue to fall. The study will provide important long-term information for planners, not just in areas of healthcare, but also in education and housing. It has particular relevance for local authorities.
In spite of recession and a resumption of emigration, Ireland’s population continues to grow. The ESRI charted a small decline in the number of live births during the past three years. In spite of that, the Irish birth rate remains the highest within the European Union, some 50 per cent higher than the European average. Inward migration contributed significantly to this development as young families and young women moved here to find work. One in four births now involve mothers who were born outside of Ireland.
There is evidence that some women may be postponing having children because of the recession. The average age of mothers giving birth increased by more than a year, to 31.9 years, within the past decade. At the same time, hospital care improved; hospital stays shortened and the mortality rate for small babies fell by almost one-third. These are important developments that indicate an improving health service. Less positive has been the failure to convince Irish-born mothers of the advantages of breastfeeding. Mothers from America and Europe are nearly twice as likely to feed their children in this way.
Ireland has become an urban society, with 60 per cent of people living in villages, towns and cities. The children being born today will accelerate that trend and have implications for transport, energy, housing, job creation and a variety of social services. Long term planning hardly existed in the past. This time, we must get it right and ensure greater social equality for the next generation.