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Data: An in-depth look at Connacht's declining birth rates

  • - Written by Sarah Slevin

    Birth rates across the island of Ireland have been declining steadily over the decades, and began decreasing more rapidly from the late 1980s onwards.

    Through statistics and research found through The Data Times search engine and collaborative project, journalist Sarah Slevin contributed this piece to Sync NI regarding declining birth rates in Connacht, with specific focus on Co Galway. Read about Ulster's stats here. 

    According to figures from the CSO (Central Statistics Office), the birth rate in Galway has dropped by almost a fifth from 2009-2019.

    The figures represent both the city and county and as shown in Table 1, the county figures have seen the most dramatic decline.

    The figures reflect what is happening nationwide (see Table 2). Generally, the decline started to become most dramatic from 2011.

    We can draw many conclusions, but some figures show that there could be a simple explanation for the drop from 2011. The most recent census records we have available from the CSO are from the year 2016. Using those figures and comparing them to those in 2011, we can see a pattern between birth rates and women of child-bearing age who live in Galway.

    The CSO determine child-bearing age as between 15-44 years. There is a drop of 4% in the number of women in Galway between the ages of 15-44 years. While the figure is not high, it still has impact considering women, generally, may have more than one child.

    Another fact that emerged from these findings is that in 2011, the majority of women of child-bearing age lay between the ages of 30-34. This contrasts to the 2016 figures in which the majority lay above the age of 35.

    According to CSO figures, since 2011, the majority of children are born to women between the ages of 30-34. So, the drop from 2011 to 2016 shows that there are less women in Galway of this age group and this could account for the drop in birth rates.

    Another finding in relation to birth rates was the decline in abortion rates over a similar period.

    The ban on abortions in Ireland was overturned in 2018 and abortions up until 12 weeks of pregnancy became available from January 2019. Until then, women resident in Ireland who sought an abortion travelled to the UK for the procedure.

    From 2008-2018, according to figures released by the UK Department of Health, there was a decrease in Irish women travelling to the UK for an abortion of 35% (see Table 3).

    Between 2008-2018, abortions were not carried out in Ireland meaning that the decrease in birth rates cannot be linked to abortions as the rate of those travelling to the UK has gone down in line with birth rates in the same 10 year period.

    In the first year (2019) in which abortions were permitted under 12 weeks in Ireland, the figure of those travelling to the UK dropped almost 90% from the previous year. In 2018, 2,879 Irish women sought abortion in the UK while in 2019, the figure was at 375.

    According to figures posted by the Department of Health, in 2019, however, a total of 6,666 abortions were carried out in Ireland (67 of these being in Northern Ireland). Of these, 98% were carried out in early pregnancy.

    The other 2% were in cases where there was a risk to life or health or there was a high likelihood of pregnancy leading to the death of the foetus. 4% of abortions carried out were in Galway and 7% in the five counties of Connacht.

    Figures for abortions undertaken in Ireland in 2020 are yet to be released so no further conclusions can be drawn as of yet.

    Also, with the 2021 census postponed until 2022, we will have to wait a little longer than usual to be able to determine if any of these trends in birth rates will continue.

    This article is part of a wider, All-Ireland data-journalism series that examines birth rates in each province. The project is in collaboration with the Data Times and the Digital Times

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