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Finnish birth rate on course to be among lowest since 1868 famine

The birth rate in Finland during the first five months of this year fell by seven percent compared to the same period last year, according to advance data from Statistics Finland. Officials say that if the current trend continues, births this year will fall below 50,000 -- for the first time since the famine of 1868.

Vauvan käsi.
Image: AOP

According to advance data from Statistics Finland, as recently as 2016, the number of births in Finland was above 50,000 – 52,814 to be precise. However based on the number of births recorded in the first five months of the year, it looks likely that births this year will fall below 50,000 – the first time since Finland clawed its way out of a nationwide famine in 1868, when 43,757 live births were recorded.

Mika Gissler, a researcher with the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, said that there is nothing to suggest that the current rate of births will increase towards the end of the year.

"In general, data at the beginning of the year correlate quite well with full-year statistics," Gissler added.

This year’s birth data look even more dismal considering that Finland’s population during the mid-1800s was less than two million, well below half of the current five million.

Downward trend over six years

THL research professor Gissler described the change as exceptional. He said that the declined in births observed at the beginning of the year was so steep that researchers initially doubted the numbers. He revealed that statisticians at the government agency called the THL to find out whether they had noticed a similar trend.

Research professor Anna Rotkirch of the Family Federation of Finland also viewed the decline in births as unusual. She noted that at the turn of the millennium the birth rate in Finland had even been rising for a long time.

"During the last six years we have fallen below the average birth rate in Europe. We clearly have a lower birth rate that Sweden and Norway, especially," Rotkirch pointed out.

"This marked decline over a six-year period has come as a surprise to us," she added.

According to the THL’s Gissler, it’s not clear whether the current trend is a lasting phenomenon or if is merely a short-lived consequence of a long period of economic decline.

He said that there is a danger that contrary to other Nordic countries, Finland could see low birth rates for decades.

Economic anxiety spikes desire for kids

A family barometer report to be published by the Family Federation next autumn is expected to unpack the reasons for the declining number of births. Rotkirch said that researchers have already pinpointed two processes influencing birth rates.

"On the one hand this extended economic uncertainty in Finland has caused people to postpone getting into relationships, getting married and having their first child. Establishing a family is deferred in times of economic uncertainty," Rotkirch explained.

"At the same time there has been a cultural change ongoing. People think everything has to be ready and that they have to experience everything before they have a family," she continued.

The researcher pointed out that the organisation’s 2015 family barometer revealed a first-time increase in the number of Finnish residents who don’t want any children at all or want no more than one child.

"This is especially the case among men, low income earners and city dwellers."

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