In 2020, the number of live births fell to a new record low in many industrialized countries as the Covid-19 pandemic amplified an aleady existing trend: postponing motherhood. Young women now tend to invest more time in their education and careers before starting a familiy. This behavior might result in a further decline in the total number of births and thus compound the challenges faced by already aging societies. But at the individual level, it could help narrow the income and pension gaps between men and women.
In many high-income countries, the number of live births declined to record lows in 2020 as pregnancies were postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, the pandemic only amplified already existing trends: Barring a few temporary interruptions, the number of newborns in more developed regions has been falling for decades, from 19.1mn in 1956 to around 13.2mn in 2020.
One explanation might be the increase of women’s average age at first birth: For example, during the time of the baby boom in 1960, the average age of a mother at first birth in Germany was 25.0 years. In 1999, it was 28.0 years and in 2019 it was 30.1 years . We observe similar developments in other industrialized countries: In Japan it increased from 25.4 years in 1960 to 27.9 years in 1999 and 30.7 years in 2019. In the US it rose from 21.8 years in 1960 to 24.8 years in 1999 and 27.0 years in 2019.
In the EU 27, the average age of mothers at first birth was 29.4 years in 2019, ranging from 26.9 years in Romania (partly due to a comparatively high number of teenage births ) to 31.3 years in Italy. Estonia witnessed the strongest rise of the average age of mothers at first birth: In the Baltic country it incresased by 4.5 years within 20 years, from 23.7 years in 1999 to 28.2 years in 2019. In comparison, it increased merely by one year in France, the country with the highest birth rate in the EU during this time span, from 27.8 years to 28.8 years.
At the same time, the share of mothers aged 40 and older has also increased: In 2019, 223,278 or 5.4% of all newborn children in the EU were born to mothers aged 40 and older, and one in four were their mother’s first child. Spain (9.9%) and Italy (8.8%), the countries with the lowest birth rates in the EU after Malta, reported the highest shares of older mothers . In the US the share was 3.6 %.