A LITTLE PLEASANT DEMOGRAPHIC ARITHMETIC
This post was written by Cormac Ó Gráda
In these gloomy times, here is an update on two socio-demographic trends that give some cause for some cheer, and which do not receive due attention. These trends, previously described for earlier years in a piece in the Economic and Social Review, persisted during 2007 and 2008. They are  evidence that the long rise in the proportion of births occurring outside marriage was leveling off, and  signs that the number of Irish pregnancies aborted in England and Wales had peaked.
The leveling off in the proportion of extramarital births, which continued in 2007 and 2008, is described in Figure 1.
]. Probably more significant, though, is the continuing downward trend in teenage births. Teenage births surged from 1.6 per cent of all births in 1960 to 6.3 per cent in 2001, but fell off thereafter to 4 per cent in 2005 and 3.7 per cent in 2006. In 2007 and 2008 the shares were down to 3.5 and 3.2 per cent, respectively.
The share of extramarital births to mothers aged less than 25 years has also continued to fall. Between 1998 and 2006 it plummeted from 58.2 to 40.6 per cent; by 2008 it was down to 37.4 per cent (Figure 2). This is important since, presumably, a higher proportion of the births to older single mothers were planned, and thus less costly for mother, child, and society at large.
Abortion remains a controversial and divisive issue in Ireland. A decade ago, the proportion of all Irish conceptions terminated in England and Wales exceeded one in ten. The proportion peaked in 1999-2000, and has declined slowly since then. In 2007 and 2008 the percentage of all pregnancies terminated in England and Wales continued its unheralded but remarkable decline to 6.2 and 5.7 per cent. Nor does the diversion of terminations to the Netherlands—sometimes mentioned as a factor—account for the decline. The number of women giving Irish addresses at Dutch abortion clinics fell from 451 in 2007 to 330 in 2008.
Another feature noted earlier was the striking reduction in the number of terminations by young women as a proportion of the total (Figure 3). Their share has virtually halved, from 6.3 per cent a decade ago to 3.2 per cent in 2008. The proportion of teen pregnancies ending in terminations remained high, averaging 22.2 per cent between 1997 and 2006. In 2007 and 2008 the percentages fell to 18.1 and 17.4, respectively. For older women the share ending in terminations also fell. These declines may be partly due to compositional shifts, but improved sex education and increasing use of the morning-after pill are probably more important factors.
So far, so good. But will these trends survive the recession?