Aug. 28 - Britain's experiencing a baby boom, with the highest birth rate in 40 years. While that will put pressure on some services in the short-term, researchers say babies could bring economic benefits. Joanna Partridge looks into how a higher fertility rate could help Britain to better support its ageing population.
A little outfit for a new addition. Childrenswear retailer Caramel baby & child has been selling its distinctive clothes in the UK for 14 years. It's expanded to Tokyo and New York, and is soon opening in Singapore, says finance director Akis Karayiannis. SOUNDBITE: Akis Karayiannis, Finance Director, Caramel, saying (English): "Asians are big buyers of our product, they like the quality and we see a lot of growth there, so we're kind of excited and we're interested in opening more shops and we're just reacting to demand for the product there." Closer to home, Caramel could also benefit from the UK's baby boom. Britain's birth rate hit the highest level in 40 years in 2012. Sarah Harper, Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, says there are two main reasons. SOUNDBITE: Sarah Harper, Director, Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, saying (English): "A lot of women in this country delayed having children and now they are catching up and having children at older ages and that's giving an increase to the birth rate. But the other reason I think is migrants to this country and also British-born women of an ethnic minority status, particularly those from South Asia, they tend to have larger families." More babies can initially strain services like schools and hospitals. But a higher birth rate may bring long-term economic benefits, helping Britain to support its ageing population. Today's babies will become tomorrow's workers, paying taxes and contributing to pensions and healthcare. The UK's reversal of the declining birth rate stands out in Europe. Recent data indicates fertility has dropped back again in many European countries, especially Spain and Italy, since the financial crisis began in 2008. SOUNDBITE: Sarah Harper, Director, Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, saying (English): "It's actually quite debated how much a short economic downturn impacts upon long-term birth rates. What I think has happened, particularly in some of the southern European countries, where fertility is very, very low at the moment, is women or couples are delaying having that first child and then they may stop at only one child." Economists are most concerned when the fertility rate isn't enough to stop the population shrinking - meaning not only are fewer young workers entering the labour market, but there are a fewer potential mothers. Even if not all experts agree on whether recession causes couples to reassess having children, a low birth rate could be sowing the seeds of future problems for already stricken economies.