British ‘baby shortage’ could lead to economic decline, says thinktank

Social Market Foundation suggests measures including better childcare provision to increase birthrate

Britain is facing a “baby shortage” that could lead to “long-term economic stagnation”, a thinktank has said.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) said the birthrate was almost half what it was at its postwar peak in the 1960s, and the country’s ageing population could lead to economic decline.

It said ministers should set up a cross-government taskforce to consider the issue, and one helpful measure might be better childcare provision. The thinktank said typical British working parents spend 22% of their income on full-time childcare, more than double the average for western economies.

The birthrate in England and Wales peaked in 1964 when the number of children per woman averaged 2.93. Last year it was 1.58, well below the 2.1 replacement level needed to keep the population rate stable, and in Scotland it was even lower at 1.29.

In a report, Baby Bust and Baby Boom: Examining the Liberal Case for Pronatalism, the SMF said this would ultimately lead to a shortage of working-age adults.

“Pronatalism” is the policy or practice of encouraging the bearing of children, especially through government support of a higher birthrate.

“At present, there are a little under three over-65s for every 10 workers, but by the middle of the next decade that ratio will rise to 3.5, and by the 2060s the number will be closing in on four,” the report said.

“According to these projections, by 2050 a quarter of Britons will be over 65, up from a fifth today.

“This combination of a lower share of the population in work and a higher share in need of economic support clearly has a negative effect on the productive capacity of the economy.”

The report says 28% of countries worldwide specifically adopt pronatalist policies to drive up the birthrate. In some countries these can take the form of direct payments to parents, such as in France, where there is a “birth grant” worth €950 (£810).

The report recommends the creation of a cross-departmental taskforce to ensure that when policies are being set, ministers take into account what impact they might have on population growth.

Dr Aveek Bhattacharya, the chief economist at the SMF and one of the report’s authors, said: “The question of whether the government should intervene to try to increase the birthrate is clearly a sensitive topic that must be delicately handled.

“However, given the alarming fall in fertility rates, and the risks that population ageing poses to our social and economic wellbeing, it is a discussion we should not duck.”


Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Baby boxes to be sent to new mothers in Scotland from this week
Cardboard boxes include fitted mattress and bedding to turn them into temporary cribs as part of safe sleeping scheme

Severin Carrell Scotland correspondent

14, Aug, 2017 @4:00 PM

Article image
Thirtysomething grandparents need social services to adapt, says study

Research has led to calls for changes in government policy and a remodelling of provision to help this vulnerable group

Amelia Hill

12, Jun, 2011 @5:33 PM

Article image
Cot death charity criticises call for baby boxes across UK
Midwives urge roll-out of boxes given to new parents but Lullaby Trust warns on safety

Sarah Boseley Health editor

02, Aug, 2018 @4:39 PM

Article image
Schools should open doors to two-year-olds, says minister

Childcare minister Liz Truss also recommends the extension of nurseries' opening hours

Ben Quinn

04, Feb, 2014 @12:46 AM

Article image
George Osborne defends childcare vouchers for carers on up to £300,000
Chancellor says scheme must be simple to run and rejects extension to 'stay-at-home mothers who make lifestyle choice'

Patrick Wintour

05, Aug, 2013 @2:57 PM

Article image
Childcare commission to consider longer school days
Commission will explore ways to cut childcare costs, seen by Downing Street as one of the most pressing issues for families

Patrick Wintour, political editor

18, Jun, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Playschemes and affordable summer childcare getting harder to find
Parents face an uphill struggle to find childcare over the holidays, report finds, with provision for disabled children and in deprived and rural areas worst hit

Sally Weale Education correspondent

15, Jul, 2015 @11:01 PM

Article image
Childcare crisis risks pushing women out of workforce, says TUC
Families in Britain struggle with reduced access to nurseries and informal care during pandemic

Alexandra Topping

02, Sep, 2020 @11:00 PM

Article image
Labour should adopt universal childcare, suggests thinktank
IPPR says prioritising childcare, rather than expanding tax credits, would reinforce Labour's commitment to families

Patrick Wintour, Political editor

11, Dec, 2013 @6:00 AM

Article image
Childcare costs stopping mothers going to work, says study

Number of women opting to look after their children instead of doing paid employment increases by 32,000 in a last year

Hilary Osborne

30, Aug, 2011 @11:01 PM