By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — As Ireland experiences a Celtic Tiger baby boom, new figures reveal a record number of births outside marriage, with almost one in three babies now being born to single mothers.
During the first three months of the year, there were 13,388 births, the highest first-quarter figure since 1992.
The number of births to single mothers has soared from over 10 percent in 1987 to almost 32 percent in the first quarter.
Central Statistics Office figures reveal that 12 of the single mothers were aged 15 or under. Three 16-year-olds had their second baby.
Ireland’s birth rate per thousand was 14.5 in the first three months — way ahead of EU countries like Italy, Spain and France, where the
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rate is just over nine. Only Luxembourg, at over 13 per thousand, is near Ireland.
Greater affluence and a Celtic Tiger "feel-good factor" are thought to be behind the high number of births.
The biggest baby boom area is South County Dublin, where there are 18.9 births per thousand, compared to County Mayo, which is at the bottom of the league with just 7.4.
Dr. Jerry Sexton, research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, said the buoyant economy was probably the main reason for the rising number of births.
"I think the economy and greater confidence is a major part of it, but women have also been delaying having babies," he said. "Part of the fall previously had related to people putting off having children when they were younger, but there comes a point where you can’t delay it any longer."
He believes that in the long-term the Irish birth rate will fall to European averages.
Sexton attributes the increasing number of single mothers to changing social attitudes and greater financial supports.
"It is very high in historical terms," he said. "At one stage it was down at about 5 or 6 percent. There are a whole lot of factors responsible for the increase. It is not regarded as a stigma any more, far from it."
Senator Mary Henry, president of the lone parents group Cherish, said some young women believed becoming a mother gave them some status.
"It is really very sad that there could be people who think that they are of so little value that unless they become a single mother they will have no status at all," Henry said.
She said alcohol and peer pressure were also factors, especially with some teenage single mothers. Better sex education and access to contraceptives would help bring the numbers down. she said.
She believes about half the single mothers were cohabiting with the fathers of the babies in stable relationships.
Women aged over 25 were responsible for 43 percent of the 4,275 single-mother births in the three months, indicating that many may not be crisis pregnancies but involve couples in relationships.