According to data provided by Statistics Estonia and the Estonian Ministry of the Interior, less than a thousand births have been registered in Estonia in each of the last six months. The data suggests that, while 2022 saw the lowest number of births for a single year in Estonia this century, the number of newborns in 2023 is likely to be even lower.
In ten of the last 16 months, the number of births in Estonia has been below 1,000.
In 2022, more than 1,000 babies were born in March and in each of the months from May to September inclusive. After that, the number of births per month fell to below 1,000. There were also fewer than a thousand births in December 2021.
The lowest number of births for a single month was recorded in February this year, when 781 live births were registered, three lower than the 784 in December last year.
Last year, the biggest drop in births when compared to the same month in 2021 was in November, when there was a decrease 23.6 percent (1,113 in 2021 and 850 births in 2022). This was exactly nine months after Russia's full-scale military offensive against Ukraine began, in February 2022.
In 2022, the smallest drops in births on year were recorded in January and May. In both months, the number of births was around five percent lower than for the same month a year before.
Taking the year as a whole, there were 11.7 percent fewer births in 2022 in Estonia than in 2021.
This January, births were 1.7 percent lower than for the same month in 2022. They were also 9.1 percent lower on year in February and 6.1 percent lower in March.
In mid-January, the Estonian Ministry of the Interior's department of population operations reported that there were 1,500 fewer births in Estonia last year compared to 2021. The total of 11,588 births registered in Estonia last year was the lowest figure this century.
According to the interior ministry, 17,245 deaths were registered in Estonia last year, outnumbering the number of births by 5,657.
In 2021, 13,138 births and 18,445 deaths were registered, meaning deaths outnumbered births by 5,307.
Expert: Birth rate affected by challenging times
Ene-Margit Tiit, population expert at Statistics Estonia, explained to ERR, that to some extent, the number of births reflects the mood of society. During wars and crises, the birth rate always drops because people are worried and do not want to have children in difficult circumstances. The opposite is also true, Tiit said, pointing to the example of the Singing Revolution, when birth rates in Estonia rose.
Nowadays, the impact of crises is multi-faceted, Tiit explained. "The recent coronavirus crisis restricted communication between people, including the (ability to) find partners. As a result, some couples did not get together. This was compounded by the economic crisis, which has always (been a reason for) reduced birth rates, and then there is the fear of war."
"The number of women who have given birth has also declined somewhat as a result of the fertility behavior of previous generations. However, a woman's childbearing years are so long that no significant changes (can be seen) over a year or two," Tiit added.
Tiit went on to say, that as crises subside, birth rates usually tend to recover.
"It is very likely that, after a while, the birth rate will rise again, especially if the right family policy measures are implemented and the fears and concerns about the survival of the Estonian people are not amplified," Tiit said.
One of the reasons why Estonia has had a low birth rate over the past few decades is the decision by women to wait longer before having children, Tiit added.
"It's not correct to say that Estonian women don't want to have children. The average Estonian woman aged 45 has two children, although postponing having children sometimes means that they do not have as many children as they would like," said Tiit, who believes young people should be encouraged to start families at a younger age.
"We could also think about how to support and encourage young people to start a family at a younger age. The old adage from decades ago, that the first child will be arrive in any case, and it's the next ones. Which need to be encouraged, no longer applies. The Estonian statistics instead show, that once the first child is born, the second will soon follow, and, if the family is young enough, then there will be a third," she said.
Editor: Michael Cole