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Finland's birth rate falls to lowest level since 19th century famine

Finland may need a tenfold increase in work-based immigration, a family planning expert says.

Despite the fall in the birth rate, Finland's population grew in 2019. Image: AOP

The number of babies born in Finland fell for a ninth consecutive year, but immigration drove an overall population increase in 2019.

Births in Finland dropped to 45,600 last year, the lowest level since the nationwide famine of 1868, according to preliminary data released by Statistics Finland.

Nearly 2,000 fewer children were born last year than in 2018. Last year was the ninth consecutive year which the number of babies born in Finland dropped compared to the previous year.

The national fertility rate for 2019 was the lowest on record, at 1.35 children per woman. This figure is down from 1.40 for 2018, and marks a significant decline from the rate of 1.50 in 2017.

The number of deaths also fell last year, with 53,600 recorded deaths, a decrease of about a thousand from 2018.

However, despite the falling birth rate, Finland's population increased by over 9,600 to about 5,528,000 at the end of the year -- mainly due to immigration, with about 18,000 more migrants relocating to Finland than emigrants leaving the country.

Compared to 2018, the number of immigrants increased by about 1,300, to just over 32,000 people, 8,500 of whom were returning Finnish citizens. The emigration level dropped significantly, with 4,600 fewer people leaving Finland permanently last year compared to 2018.

"Large, looming challenge"

Anna Rotkirch, director of the social welfare and health NGO Family Federation of Finland, told Yle News that if the current birth trend continues Finland may face significant economic issues in the future.

"Economic predictions show that in 15 or 20 years we will have an extremely unfavourable population structure, if nothing changes," Rotkirch explained. "There is a large, looming challenge and economists are very, very worried. The dependency ratio will be extremely challenging, and it is estimated that we will need a tenfold increase in work-based immigration."

The dependency ratio measures the number of dependents under 14 and over the age of 65, compared with the total population aged 15 to 64.

In order to begin tackling these challenges, Rotkirch would like to see more research to understand what is causing the birth rate to drop. She also called for more information to be made available to the public.

"We really need to help people make informed decisions in the area of family planning, by providing more information on reproductive health and sexual health at a much better level than we are doing now," Rotkirch said.

Population declining most rapidly in rural areas

Regionally, populations grew in the areas of Uusimaa, Pirkanmaa, Southwest Finland, Northern Ostrobothnia and Åland.

The population expanded most in southern Finland's Uusimaa region -- by more than 19,000 people. Pirkanmaa also experienced population growth from the previous year, but the increase was much smaller, about 2,700 people.

South Savo saw the biggest decrease in population, more than 2,200 people. The population of Kymenlaakso also decreased by over 2,000.

25 Jan: Corrected wording of South Savo and Pirkanmaa demographic changes, added Rotkirch's title