Ireland’s birth rate down 25% compared to Celtic Tiger period

DCU economics professor says housing and childcare costs could be affecting birth rate

People living in Ireland are having significantly fewer children compared to a decade ago despite Ireland's thriving economy, the Central Statistics Office yearbook reveals.

Last year 61,016 babies were born in the Republic, the lowest figure since 2002.

That is a fall of 1.6 per cent on 2017’s figure of 62,053 and almost 20 per cent down from the peak in 2009 when 75,554 babies were born.

Despite the fall in births, the population of the Republic has continued to increase because of inward migration and declining deaths and is now almost at 5 million.


As a result of this the birth rate – the rate of births per head of population – has fallen even further.

Since the beginning of this century, birth rates in Ireland peaked at 16.8 births per thousand in 2008. It is now down to 12.6 births per thousand, a decrease of 25 per cent .

CSO figures due out at the end of the month will show the replacement rate for the population, which is an average of 2.1 children per woman, will fall below that figure, although the Republic still has one of the highest birth rates in the EU.

The average age of mothers in Ireland is now 32.9. This has increased by more than two years since the middle of the last decade.

Figures from the CSO also show that the number of births to women over 40 have increased by more than half between 2006 and 2016 while the number of children born to teenage mothers have fallen by 52.8 per cent in the same time period.

Dublin City University economics professor Edgar Morgenroth said the reasons for the dramatic decrease may be both demographic and economic.

He explained that after a baby boom in the 1970s, fewer children were born in the Republic in the 1980s. The recent decline could be partly explained by the smaller 1980s generation now starting families.

He also suggested that the current reluctance to have children might be because “the costs of housing and childcare are starting to bite”.

“Kids aren’t cheap and you have to live some place. If you are living in an inappropriate place and you can’t afford to move and childcare is expensive, you will choose to have fewer kids,” he said.

He warned that the falling birth rate could have long term consequences for Ireland as it did for his native Germany, where in some areas the working-age population is shrinking.

“You check the age and vibrancy of a lot of places in Germany, it has had a huge effect. There are towns in Germany as big as Galway which don’t even have a cinema now.”

Marriage rates have fallen to their lowest level since 1997 and would be lower still but for the inclusion of figures for same-sex marriages.

The marriage rate was 4.3 per 1,000 in 2018, the same as 1997. It peaked during the boom when there was a succession of years from 2002 to 2007 when it was 5.2 per thousand.

Couples are also older when they get married. In 2018 the average age of a man getting married in the Republic was 36.4 years; the average for a woman was 34.4. In 2008 the equivalent figures were 33.8 for a man and 31.7 for a woman.

It is even older for those involved in same-sex marriages which constitute 3 per cent of the total marriages in the Republic last year. The average age of men in same-sex marriage is 40.1; for women it is 38.7.

Rising birth and marriage rates are often a barometer of a healthy economy, but this does not seem to be the case in the present statistics.

Consumers seem to be having it good with average weekly earnings up by 3.5 per cent annually to €757.21 last year.

The average weekly household disposable income in 2017 was €929.01 up 4.7 per cent on the previous year, while the average weekly disposable income per individual was €478.78 up 5.5 per cent.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times