Malta’s fertility rate is the lowest in Europe, but economist Marie Briguglio argued that this may not be as bad as perceived.

Speaking at a conference on the low fertility rate in Malta, Briguglio questioned the validity of Malta’s worrying low birth rate while also pointing at factors that will benefit from the low statistic.

Although children contribute to a future workforce, lower fertility rates allow for a stronger female workforce as more women can continue pursuing their careers, the economist said.

While children can create a sense of purpose for parents, international studies have shown that children also create many pressures on parents and lower their average wellbeing.

Financially, parents can struggle as they find themselves with less time to earn money but with more expenses. Even psychologically, the stress of caring for a child while running on less sleep and personal time only compounds their impacted well-being, she continued.

“These factors must be considered as we cannot continue to repeat the cliché of 2.4 kids as the endgame for wellbeing,” she said.

According to Eurostat data published in March, Malta has the lowest fertility rate in Europe at 1.13 live births per woman. This is significantly lower than the EU average of 1.53 births per woman.

“But is our fertility rate really that low,” Briguglio asked those present.

Malta's fertility rate is struggling when compared to the past and to the EU average and developing countries, she said.

However, Briguglio noted there are also other countries that have similar rates like Malta's or lower.

According to NPR, South Korea has the lowest fertility rate in the world at 0.78. 

Meanwhile, the US is also seeing a decrease in fertility rates. The US Census Bureau projects that by 2034, people 65 and older will outnumber those under the age of 18 for the first time in US history.

Briguglio explained that low birth rates carry certain worries, such as fewer human resources and may also lead to pension issues, but the reality is more complex than that.

“There are also positives,” she said.

For example, Malta’s packed population density will only get worse with more births, she said.

Census data published by the National Statistics Office in February showed that Malta’s overall population density remains the highest in the EU, at over 1,600 people per square kilometre.

Malta Employers’ Association Director General Joseph Farrugia explained that, even with Malta’s low fertility rates, the country will continue to advance. 

“One way or another, the country will continue moving,” he said, because if Malta’s population shrinks, then the country can import more workers to keep the economy going.

As Malta’s birth rate shrinks, the population continues to grow.

“If you look at today’s telephone book… the surnames come from a wide array of countries,” he said, noting that many living in Malta come from English, Italian and Arabic backgrounds.

In June, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said that Malta’s population will have to grow to 800,000 by 2040 if the economy is to keep growing.

Caruana argued that the country needs to overhaul its economic model if it wants to remain competitive in the face of local and international challenges.

According to the National Statistics Office, Malta’s population increased by some 25% over the past years, partly driven by the importation of foreign workers to bolster Malta’s economy.

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