City babies are an endangered breed
SCOTLAND’S biggest cities are becoming child-free zones according to stark new figures which reveal the pattern of falling birth rates behind the country’s dramatic population decline.
The number of babies being born in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Stirling have plummeted to all-time lows, and women in Aberdeen are also having fewer children than they were in the mid-1990s.
The new figures also show that rural Aberdeenshire and Perth and Kinross are now the only areas of Scotland where women are listening to the politicians’ calls to "breed for Scotland".
But as experts and politicians argue about the best way to reverse the declining population, the worrying message in the figures is that even in the most prolific areas, fewer than two children per woman are being born on average, confirming that the long-term trend is firmly downwards.
The new figures give the fertility rates for 2002, the latest year for which data is available. A slump in the number of Scots means the nation’s population will fall below five million by 2010 - the first time it will reach this the historic mark since 1946.
In 2002, Scottish fertility reached an historic low. In that year only 51,270 births were registered - just over half the number 50 years before.
Increasing numbers of women choose their careers and affluent lifestyles over starting a family. They are choosing to have fewer children and are also suffering from fertility problems when they do decide to conceive.
There is also an increasing trend for couples planning a family to move outside the cities to areas such as Aberdeenshire, East Lothian and Renfrewshire. That means many of the women populating the cities are either elderly or pursuing a career, rather than a family. Poorer communities in Scotland’s cities are also having fewer children according to experts.
Firmly at the bottom of the birth league is Edinburgh, with only 1.20 children per woman, compared with 1.33 in 1995. In the capital in 2002, 4,494 babies were born. Aberdeenshire is top of the birth table with 1.72 children per woman - 1,800 babies in 2002 - compared with 1.67 in 1995.
Despite the fact that Edinburgh people are having fewer children, the city’s population is growing - fuelled largely by single people or couples without children.
The most dramatic fall in birthrate in recent years has been seen in Glasgow, where the rate has fallen from 1.54 children per female in 1995 to 1.34 in 2002, a fall of 13%.
While some have claimed that young women are too busy enjoying the ‘Bridget Jones’ lifestyle of drinking and socialising, academics believe the party girl image is only part of the answer.
Paul Boyle, Professor of Geography at St Andrews University, said: "While there might be some women who put off children because they want to have fun, that does not fully explain why Scotland has such a low fertility rate.
"What is happening is that women are continually putting off having children because they want to focus on their careers. They don’t actively decide not to have children, but because they keep putting it off they find that for biological reasons they can only have one or two children.
"Research suggests that confidence in the economy is an increasingly significant factor in determining whether people have children, and how many. The costs of having children mean that economic security will be increasingly important."
Joan Orme, Professor of Social Work at Glasgow University, and an expert in gender issues, added: "We are also seeing people use cities in new ways. They are going into the cities for their jobs and then moving away in order to bring up families. It means Glasgow has a fast moving population, but fewer children."
Dr Robert Rogerson, head of Geography at Strathclyde University and an expert in quality of life research, said: "The traditional image of lower income families as having large numbers of children has changed. The sizes of their families is tending to be much the same as those in higher incomes."
Ministers admit concerns about Scotland’s slumping population and have announced plans to encourage overseas students to remain in Scotland after graduation and attract more Eastern European workers to come north of the Border.
But some believe this policy is little more than a sticking-plaster.
MSP Alex Neil, of the SNP, has tabled a bill calling for cash incentives to be offered to couples to have children. He said: "Ministers are missing the point. The problem is that there is no realistic scheme of funding or childcare. We need a strategy which supplies care at a reasonable cost for most of the day.
"Our problem is that professional women are having children too late in life and then only having one or two. We have to re-think our arrangements for maternal and paternal care and campaign for people to, quite literally, breed for Scotland."
Audrey Findlay, the leader of Aberdeenshire Council, said of its position at the top of the table: "Maybe it’s something in the water. Large numbers of young couples are moving from the city to buy houses here. We are obviously bucking the trend in that in most areas of Aberdeenshire we have rising school rolls."
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