The pressures women face when they have children need to be better addressed if Malta’s birth rate is to improve, according to Labour Studies Centre director Anna Borg.
Data released by the European Union statistics office, Eurostat, shows that Malta’s fertility rate has continued to drop despite it being only slightly below the EU average.
Dr Borg said that while fertility rates had been going down for a number of years, it was worrying that efforts to increase births were not yielding results.
“Unfortunately, we have been noting this pattern for years now and it’s time we accept that we have a problem,” she said. The Eurostat data showed that the fertility rate in 2014 stood at 1.42, compared to 1.48 in 2001. The EU average in 2014 was 1.58.
A fertility rate of about 2.1 live births per woman was considered to be the replacement level in developed countries, Eurostat said. That would be the average number of live births per woman needed to keep the population size constant in the absence of inward or outward migration.
Dr Borg said the data proved that, in Malta, like other Mediterranean countries, both the participation rate in the work force and the birth rate were low, which was considered a problem.
“When you have fewer women working, you would expect that they would be having more children but that is clearly not the case. That’s very worrying,” she noted.
To address the issue, the government had to introduce more measures that encouraged women to have children while also making it easier for them to join the work force, she said.
The after-school system in Malta was not yet adequate, which was often very problematic to parents, she added. According to Dr Borg, who noted that, in Malta, women were still considered the primary caregivers, many were in a situation whereby they had to choose between joining the work force and having a child. Before this issue was addressed, there would not be any improvements.
Eurostat said France (2.01) was the only member state with a fertility rate above 2.0. It was followed by Ireland (1.94), Sweden (1.88) and the United Kingdom (1.81).
The lowest rates were observed in Portugal (1.23), ahead of Greece (1.30), Cyprus (1.31), Spain and Poland (both 1.32), Italy and Slovakia (both 1.37).
In most member states, the fertility rate rose in 2014 compared with 2001. This was not the case in Malta, where a decrease of 0.06 was recorded.