In 2020, Argentina had the lowest birth rate in its history. Demographic experts explain that fertility rates have been falling abruptly worldwide over the past five years and our country is no exception.
According to an analysis of recently published statistics, summing up the latest available data, Argentina’s fertility rate has now fallen to 1.55, the lowest figure in the history of our country, and closer to that of developed countries from Europe.
Rafael Rofman, demographic expert and researcher at the CIPPEC think-tank, produced the finding after a preliminary analysis of data contained in the Health Ministry’s “Vital Statistics 2020” report published two weeks ago.
“The lower number of children per woman is a global phenomenon which has been registered for over two centuries, with Argentina and Uruguay heading this trend in Latin America since the start of the 20th century,” Rofman told Perfil. “Nevertheless, if the trend has always been downward, it has accelerated at some points in recent history, for example, in the 1970s and early 1980s.”
For most of this century, up until 2015, the average number of children per woman in Argentina had dipped slightly, though it generally stayed at around 2.3.
“But as from that year, the fall in fertility began to accelerate greatly, reaching 2020 with a nationwide figure of 1.55 children per woman, which in relative terms is 33 percent less than the birth [rate] of 2014, representing one of the most acute plunges registered – a third in just half a decade,” explained Rofman.
In some age-groups and economic segments, this fall was even more pronounced.
“Adolescent fertility (or teen mothers) fell 55 percent between 2014 and 2020, while for girls with low educational levels the plunge reached 66 percent,“ he added.
Similar conclusions were reached by Enrique Peláez, a CONICET researcher at Córdoba-based CIECSA (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios sobre Cultura y Sociedad).
“Two decades ago Brazil, Chile and Uruguay had lower fertility rates than Argentina, which was around 2.3 children per woman, which implied a slight rate of population growth,” assured the demographer, “but as from 2014 the decline was accentuated, already falling below replacement level (two children per woman) by 2018. Today at 1.55 our country’s fertility rate is like Spain or Italy and even less than Sweden or Norway.”
Another detail supplied by Peláez emerges from recent research.
"We analysed how the fertility rate varied from 2000 until now, according to the level of the mother’s education. And even if we confirmed something already known (that the level of the mother’s education and the number of children are in inverse proportion), the striking thing is how much the fertility rate of the undereducated has changed," he said.
Between 2010 and 2014 the segment with incomplete primary education fell from six children to 4.2 with 2.3 for secondary schooling and 1.8 for higher education. But in the following years the decline accelerated – by 2017 the group with the lowest educational level had fallen from 5.9 to 3.9 per mother with less change in the other groups.
"In other words, in recent years the least educated social group was displaying a reproductive conduct increasingly similar to those with secondary or higher education," said Peláez.
In the short term this trend has no major impact but it does in the medium and long because these kinds of movements have plenty of momentum, with the phenomenon only making itself felt slowly and progressively.
“But in 20 to 30 years we will observe an ageing of our population with a higher average age and a greater percentage of elderly people among the total of Argentines. The currently lower fertility rate will quite possibly accelerate this process,” highlighted Rofman, warning: “Bearing in mind this change in our demographic structure, it will become essential to analyse and anticipate some of the global problems which we will have to face as a society, for example, a reform in our pension system.”
An ageing population is not necessarily negative at the social level but implies new challenges.
“As a civilisation, we have always wanted to live longer and choose how many children to have. Those are two positive elements,” underlined Peláez, “but we must also begin to discuss how to resolve future problems: from a sustainable pensions system to how to organise healthcare, for which there will be a greater demand with an ageing population, combined with less children to help out and also the current emigration of much of our youth. Somehow the healthcare required by this age-group will have to be attended to by some public policy.”
This type of problem will require society to reflect on issues which will have to be resolved within 10 to 15 years, demanding state policies agreed by majorities beyond the business cycle. Something especially difficult since in our country the discussion over demographic processes, fertility trends or an ageing population have enormous consequences in the medium term but do not seem to be part of any relevant debate today.
Cultural and social changes: the causes
What is causing this abrupt fall in the average number of children per woman?
There are various hypotheses, adding global social and cultural factors to local public policies which modify customs and also the new personal desires of women and their families.
“In the last five years Argentina has accelerated its process of female empowerment and self-esteem, above all among youth, with movements like ‘Ni Una Menos’ (against femicide) and the abortion debate,” said Rofman. “To which should be added a continuity in state policies with programmes of integral sex education, reproductive counselling and teen mothers with a lot of work communicating women’s rights in these issues.”
On the other hand, the trend for the massive arrival of new “practical” and safe contraceptives on the market has accentuated such as subdermal implants and easy access to other contraceptive options.
“The fall in the global fertility rate is simultaneously modulated by all these factors and it is difficult to attribute a percentage of causality to any one of them but they all add up,” he concluded.