The Irish Times view on the latest demographic trends: A changing population

The trends revealed in the latest figures will need to be monitored closely by policy makers in the years ahead to establish if they represent the beginning of a long term trend

The average age of mothers in Ireland is now 32.9 years. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

The fall in the Irish birth rate disclosed in the latest Central Statistics Office yearbook is a mixed blessing. In the short term it may mean less pressure on public services like health and education but if the trend continues it will lead to a shrinking of the working-age population.

Many of the trends revealed in the yearbook are typical of an increasingly prosperous society: rising incomes, a declining birth rate and a higher age for marriage and giving birth. 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 the 2017 figure of 62,053 and a drop of almost 20 per cent since the peak in 2009, when 75,554 babies were born.

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

Despite the fall in births, the population of the Republic has continued to increase to almost five million because of inward migration and longer life expectancy. The country still has one of the highest birth rates in the EU, but the steep drop in recent years means that the figure will drop below the average of 2.1 children per woman, which is the internationally recognised replacement rate for a country’s population.

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 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, while the number of births to women over 40 has increased by more than half between 2006 and 2016. By contrast the number of children born to teenage mothers has fallen by 52.8 per cent in the same period.

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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 figure peaked during the boom when there was a succession of years, from 2002 to 2007, when it was 5.2 per thousand. The CSO figures also reveal that average weekly earnings were up in 2018, as was the average weekly household disposable income. The trends revealed in the latest figures will need to be monitored closely by policymakers in the years ahead to establish if they represent the beginning of a long term trend.