Too little, too late, and too busy for babies

Birth rates in Denmark continue to fall and unless the trend reverses, funding the welfare system may become problematic in the future

The number of newborns in Denmark continues to plummet. Since 2000, there has been a 17 percent decrease in birth rates, and Denmark now has the lowest birth rate among the Nordic countries, Ugebrevet A4 reported based on figures provided by Eurostat. Birth rates in Denmark have not been this low since 1987.  


"We should have somewhere between 275 to 310 births per month, but right now we have between 210 and 220," Line Hundebøl Nielsen, of Aalborg University’s maternity ward, told A4. "There is no doubt that the birth rates are falling."


But Denmark's decreasing birth rates are nothing new. Following a February report from the Copenhagen hospital Rigshospital that showed that the 2012 birth rate was the lowest in several years, the hospital's clinical supervisor said that Denmark's birth rate was "approaching epidemic levels".


Experts have long been working to find solutions, a trying task when there is little in the way of one single explanation for the baby decline. For Lone Schmidt, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Public Health, it seems obvious that what's needed is a change in society's view on having children.


"The politicians push for the young to get educated, get into the labour market, and establish themselves," she told A4. "It may not be a bad idea for the politicians to also discuss having children as one of life’s goals and aspirations."


Alongside Israel, Denmark has the highest number of artificial inseminations in the world, sought mostly by women who are too old to conceive naturally. But some researchers maintain that this method is far from a safe bet.


"In women under 35 years of age, artificial insemination proves successful in three out of four cases, but the success rate drops by half in women who are over 35," Schmidt said. "There is a lack of knowledge and awareness about fertility and that it drops with age."


Nielsen recalls that 20 years ago at Aalborg University's maternity ward, if a first-time mother was over 25 it was considered an unusual case that required extra attention.


"Today, the average age of first-time mothers is 30 years and this is problematic because we are not biologically made for that," she said, also adding that she sees fewer third- and fourth-time mothers as women are opting to have children later.


Peter Albæk, president of the association for children's rights Børns Vilkår, said that society needs to foster an environment that promotes having careers and children at the same time.


"For many, it may be too difficult and demanding to be parents of young children during a time when they have just entered the job market and are working to build their careers," Albæk told A4. "We need to come up with new models and solutions."


So what could constitute a step in the right direction? In Christianborg, for instance, a bipartisan panel will hold a conference on reproduction next month. The panel's president, Sophie Hæstrop Andersen (Socialdemokraterne), wants to reverse the trend of women waiting longer to have children.


"Studies show that young people are told by their families that they must have an education and career prior to thinking about having children," Andersen told A4. "It will be a challenge for our society to move away from this position in the future, when there will be fewer and fewer young people to pay taxes, work, and ensure the welfare of Denmark."