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“I do not feel the desire, I never dreamed of that,” sighs Laura, 40, answering for the umpteenth time why she does not want to be a mother in Uruguay, a country with traditional low fertility where the number of births reached its historic low in 2020, after falling drastically in the last five years.

“I also wonder if we are in a society to bring children. The world is already saturated. And it is ridiculous to think that we are going to become extinct because a group of people do not have children ”, this professional alleges to AFP with arguments that she recites almost by heart, accustomed to questions that often question her decision.

Lack of desire is far from being the only reason for low fertility, a widespread multi-causal phenomenon in the region from which Uruguay He is a historical standard-bearer.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the nation of 3.5 million people fell below the threshold of 2.1 children per woman that demographers consider the “generational replacement rate,” that is, the magic number that allows a population to is maintained without decreasing its volume.

In the last five years, the fall is more extraordinary. In gross numbers, it went from almost 49,000 births in 2015 to less than 36,000 in 2020.

This translates into an average of 1.4 children per woman: the lowest fertility rate in Uruguayan history, far from replacement and close to the fantasy of “extinction”.

It is also possibly the lowest in the region, although several Latin American countries do not have updated data for 2020. Cuba, another nation with a traditional low fertility, reached 1.57 children per woman in 2019, according to the latest official figures.

– Fewer teenage mothers –

“You have to avoid catastrophic scenarios. The idea that we are going to end up with a depopulated or disappearing country is not going to happen, ”the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) office clarifies to AFP. Uruguay, Fernando Filgueira.

According to the sociologist, the country’s historic low birth rate is explained by an early urbanization process, migrants with low fertility rates, and the absence of a strong indigenous population.

The separation of Church and State also facilitated family planning and the early incorporation of women into the educational world and the labor market, which favored the decrease in births.

To this is added today the postponement of motherhood, which usually leads to the decision to have only one child or even fertility problems.

But the sharp drop that has occurred since 2015 is a mirror of another crucial drop: that of teenage motherhood.

“52% of the explanation for the decline in the last five years, from 1.9 to 1.4 children per woman,” is explained by the decline in mothers aged 15 to 24 due to public policies for the prevention of adolescent pregnancy, says the demographer Ignacio Pardo, researcher at the University of the Republic.

Risel Suárez, director of the Pereira Rossell Women’s Hospital, a maternity referral center in Uruguay, explains that “the most convincing hypothesis” is that this drop is due to subdermal contraceptive implants offered by the State to young women since 2014.

But it also points to sex education and a paradigm shift that makes adolescents come to the gynecological office accompanied by their mothers. “It is something that has been very noticeable at a clinical level in the last decade,” he says.

– Region down –

While many of the causes of low fertility are good news, staying at levels of 1.4 children per woman can lead to long-term problems.

Not because of the specter of “extinction”: according to Filgueira, with the current trend the Uruguayan population would continue to grow until 2040 and only in 2100 would there be a decline.

But an inevitable consequence is the aging of the population, which puts pressure on the health and social security systems.

Experts consider that it should be pointed out that families distribute care so that they do not fall mainly on women and that the State financially support upbringing, in a country with a high cost of living.

The decline in fertility is a trend in Latin America, which mimics a process rooted in Europe and parts of Asia. South Korea reached 0.9 children per woman in 2019, according to data collected by the World Bank.

Spain (1.2) and Italy (1.3) have the lowest fertility rates among European countries and Chile (1.6) and Costa Rica (1.7) in Latin America, where Bolivia appears at the other extreme with 2 , 7 children per woman.

On Uruguay, Laura acknowledges that perhaps one day she will regret her decision.

“But what if I regret having them? I’ve seen it too ”.

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