2019 looks like being the first year in recent history in which more people died than were born in Malaga. In the first six months of this year only 6,297 babies were born in the province, the lowest figure since records began in 1941. That is 139 fewer babies (or a reduction of 2.16 per cent) than in the first half of 2018.
These statistics are from a study into natural movement of the population which has just been updated by the National Institute of Statistics (INE).
The birth rate is so low that even though the number of deaths is lower than last year (6,551 people died, nine per cent fewer than in the first six months of 2018), the province is now in a situation of negative population growth (there were 254 more deaths than births).
This has been the case in Spain as a whole for years, but until now Malaga had escaped thanks to its younger population and higher birth rate than other regions.
In reality, the first half of 2018 was the first period in history in which there were more deaths than births in Malaga, but there was also an unusual situation during that time because the number of deaths was higher than normal. Experts attribute this to an especially virulent flu epidemic.
In the first half of 2019 that was not the case. Mortality was lower than the previous two years. To be specific, 6,551 people died between January and June this year, which is 9.2 per cent fewer than in the same period the previous year.
Clear downward trend
The birth rate does seem to be falling inexorably, though. "The number of deaths is more variable depending on the year, because of basic circumstances such as the winter, although there is always a recognisable trend behind the rises and falls. On the other hand, the births follow a much clearer trend," said José Jesús Delgado, a professor in the Geography department at Malaga University.
This downward trend has been ongoing for the past decade, coinciding with the economic crisis. Between 2008 and 2018 the birth rate in Malaga province fell by 29 per cent, from 31,434 births to 19,015. Every year during this decade fewer babies have been born than in the previous year, with the exception of 2014, when there was a sudden rise.
Some attribute this fall in the birth rate to the economic crisis, but most experts in demographics believe the recession was only an aggravating factor in a phenomenon which has more to do with the composition of the population pyramid and social changes. The generation of women from the 'baby boom' period are no longer of fertile age and, given that later generations are less numerous, every women would need to have more children in order for the birth rate to be maintained.
That doesn't happen; in fact the situation is the contrary. Every year the fecundity index (the average number of children per woman of fertile age) falls and the average age of motherhood rises. Ageing and the fall in the birth rate feed each other. They are two sides of the same phenomenon, the so-called 'demographic winter' which is affecting most countries in western Europe.
Professor Delgado confirmed that this ageing process is common all over Spain, but stresses that there are major differences between regions and that Malaga "can consider itself among the most fortunate, because it maintains a strong demographic dynamism thanks to its coastal situation and economic power".
In fact, compared with the loss of inhabitants suffered year after year in the provinces of 'empty Spain', Malaga is one of those which gains the most population, thanks to internal and external immigration.
"Nobody should fear immigration, because it is the solution to make sure our country does not lack labour in the not-so-distant future," said Professor Delgado. He said the so-called natalist policies can be effective, but it is advisable for the authorities to take some type of action to stop the fall in the birth rate.
According to Delgado, measures which aim to improve the conciliation of working and personal life, such as extending paternity leave, are positive, although on the other hand he said the fact that there has recently been talk of another crisis "isn't exactly encouraging people to procreate".
This week the INE also published the marriage statistics for the first half of this year, showing that there were 2,331 weddings in the province, which was 104 more than in the same period of 2018.