If you want babies, go to Tigerland
By John Corry
On Nov. 22, our first child was born, and subjectively, is absolutely beautiful. Our baby daughter came into the world at 3.77 kg, a fairly standard weight for an Irish baby. In fact most of the babies born on the same morning as my daughter were closer to 4 kg. This is not a sizable increase from my parent's time. Doctors feel that the traditional Irish diet, rich in iron with plenty of vegetable and folic acid, is suitable for pregnant women to realize a good birth weight. Also, doctors in the 1960s did advise pregnant women to drink one glass of Guinness every day in order to boost their iron intake. Now it is only advised after the delivery of the baby.
My wife was allowed only three nights in the hospital before returning home. This is now an accepted practice in Ireland, given the shortage of hospital beds and the boom in the number of baby's currently being born.
Demographics has never been the most appealing of the social sciences. Considering population trends and analyzing birthrates will never really come close to the cachet associated with astrophysics or cold fusion. But currently, Ireland is experiencing dramatic changes in its demographics and recently, the birth rate has become of personal importance with the birth of my first child.
Due to recent, sustained economic growth within the "Celtic Tiger," the tide of emigration from Ireland has shifted dramatically: first dwindling, then stopping and now reversing. Society now has to deal with immigration for the first time in our history, both of Irish nationals returning home and of foreign workers coming to Ireland to fill the shortfalls in our labor market.
The birthrate in Ireland remains the highest in Europe with 14.6 births per 1,000 in 2000.
High Irish fertility rates are explained in part by an increase in the number of immigrants with higher fertility rates. It is estimated by the authority for Dublin's maternity hospitals that approximately 5 percent of births in 2001 will be deliveries to asylum seekers. Until recently, any child born in Ireland was automatically granted Irish citizenship. Ireland has long been a mono-racial society and most Irish welcome the new additions to our society without reservation.
Although birthrates are comparatively high, the truth is that the number of births per year is forecast to drop by 20 percent by 2016. Most Irish are delaying having children until a later age than their parent's generation.
This is partly explained by the huge increase in the cost of housing. In the last five years, house prices have more than doubled. The basic cost of a starter home in Dublin is now Irish £180,000 (¥27 million) or over 10 times the average industrial wage. Since it takes so long to accumulate the savings required to buy a home, the additional costs associated with children have to be delayed.
Also, Irish women are continuing to work once married and feel more comfortable in having children at a later age in order to develop their career.
The average age of a woman in Ireland having her first child has now broken the 30-year barrier for the first time. Naturally, this means that the average family size is also declining sharply. My grandparents had a total of seven children, whereas my parents were only brave enough to have five children. As for my generation the norm is two to three children.
Once our daughter was pronounced healthy, we were faced with the same dilemma that hits all new parents Ewe had to announce her name. Baby names are a serious business in any culture. One danger is where grandparents generously propose their own names. Since these names are 50 years out of date, they have to be avoided at all costs in the most diplomatic way.
Usually an Irish child is given two names at birth and chooses a third name on being confirmed, usually when they are 11 or 12 years old. Confirmation is a Catholic ceremony. My daughter's given names is Beth Bridget. Beth is the short version of the Celtic name Bethany, which, in the oldest form of the Irish language means life. Bridget is an Irish saint and the name of my wife's grandmother.
It really does not require a firm grasp of demographics to see that the number of babies born in Ireland currently is high. Walk down any street and you can't fail to notice the convoys of prams and buggies being pushed by stressed-out parents.
Whatever my original opinion on these type of statistics, together with Beth, we have become part of the birthrate and have affected the average birth age. However, I don't think that science will ever be able to fully explain why my home is currently drowning in a sea of pink baby clothing.
Shukan ST: Jan. 11, 2002
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