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    World Population Day – Sunday 11 July

    This Sunday 11 July 2021 marks the United Nations World Population Day. Its aim is to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues.

    On this year’s World Population Day, the United Nations (UN) states that:

    “Rights and choices are the answer: Whether baby boom or bust, the solution to shifting fertility rates lies in prioritising the reproductive health and rights of all people.

    “In this second year of COVID-19, we are suspended in an in-between state, where parts of the world are emerging from the deep recesses of the pandemic while others are locked in battle with the coronavirus as access to vaccines remains a distant, deadly reality.

    “The pandemic has compromised health care systems particularly in the area of sexual and reproductive health. It also exposed and exacerbated gender-based inequities: gender-based violence increased under lockdown, as did the risk of child marriage and female genital mutilation as programmes to abolish the harmful practices were disrupted. Significant numbers of women left the labour force – their often low-paying jobs were eliminated or caregiving responsibilities for children learning remotely or for homebound older people increased – destabilising their finances, not just for now but in the long run.

    “Against this backdrop, many countries are expressing growing concern over changing fertility rates. Historically, alarmism over fertility rates has led to abrogations of human rights.

    "UNFPA advises against reactionary policy responses, which can be extremely harmful if they violate rights, health and choices. The agency emphasises that women must be empowered educationally, economically and politically to exercise choice over their bodies and fertility.”

    At CPC, our research aims to understand the causes and consequences of changes in births, deaths, relationships and migration. During the last year, our researchers have been using their expertise to understand how the pandemic is affecting different aspects of how we live.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has increase uncertainty in population projections and estimates. Members of CPC’s Modelling strand, including Professors Peter W F Smith and Jakub Bijak, Dr Erengul Dodd and Dr Jason Hilton, have been meeting with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to give expert advice on measuring uncertainty in population and migration estimates, and on assessing the impact of shocks, for example the Covid-19 pandemic, on mortality forecasts. Understanding how the population is changing is a crucial part of the work of ONS. Their statistics inform decision-makers in the central and local government, and provide the public with an overview of our population.

    CPC research has examined how lockdowns are affecting families, finding that there have been some positive outcomes with families having the opportunity to get closer, while others have experienced more stress and sleeplessness. In particular, findings have highlighted how certain segments of society, including women with young children, younger people and those of Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage, are being more heavily affected by the pandemic’s societal consequences.

    Reflecting on the family pressures faced by many, CPC member Professor Athina Vlachantoni said:

    “I’ve always found that effective policy tools are the ones that give individuals real choice. Looking to the future, my hope is that employers and the government will recognise the often ‘hidden’ life outside of the workplace, where many people are juggling multiple caring responsibilities, and create policies and working conditions which support individuals in their roles, and ultimately support our ageing society as a whole.”

    CPC researchers have been contributing to the widespread interest in changes in the fertility rate. Led by Professor Ann Berrington, the CPC team created 'what if' scenarios to test how the pandemic might affect the number of babies born, and whether we will be facing a baby boom, or a baby bust, in the UK. Professor Berrington comments:

    "Our examination of some of the potential mechanisms through which the pandemic could affect childbearing suggests that recent declines in fertility rates could well be accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The projected Total Fertility Rates from our four scenarios provided a range of possibilities, however three out of four of the scenarios suggested fewer births. The differences we have seen across all four scenarios, and the possible cumulative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on childbearing rates in the UK, could have significant implications for service planning and provision.”

    We have also published findings on UK trends in parents’ partnership status when having babies, gender attitudes and practices among married and cohabiting parents, and declining teenage pregnancy rates, as well as the effects of grandparenting on older people’s mental health.

    CPC's Director, Professor Jane Falkingham OBE, said:

    “The importance of studying populations has never been more apparent. We are living through a time of major change; be that because of the sudden pandemic-induced fluctuations in migration levels, the effects of lockdown-living on families, the increased mortality rates, falling birth rates, or even more disparity opening up between generations.”

    She continues: “I agree with UNFPA; careful policy responses during such seismic societal shifts are needed. It is vital for social scientists to understand these human interactions as we move through and out of the pandemic. This way, we can work with policymakers to ensure they are well-informed about the implications of where we live, who we care for, and the disproportionate impacts on different groups, so that they can make the right decisions to protect, educate and empower the most vulnerable in our societies.”

    Further reading

    Here is a selection of some our recent research on the societal effects of the pandemic and issues affecting women and families, much of which is explored in more depth in recent editions of our research magazine, Changing Populations:

    Covid-19 could cause historically low levels of childbearing in the UK
    Levels of childbearing in all the countries of the UK were declining even before the pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 could mean a further fall in fertility rates to historically low levels. Having considered four scenarios of how the Covid-19 pandemic might affect individuals at different ages, three out of four of the scenarios showed an expected fall in the number of births over the next three years. If these scenarios play out, it will lead to significantly fewer births each year compared with the pre-pandemic period.

    Helping ONS improve population estimation
    CPC researchers have been informing the new methodology used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), by helping them to adapt to the challenges of measuring UK population changes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Understanding how the population is changing is a crucial part of the work of ONS. Their statistics inform decision-makers in the central and local government, and provide the public with an overview of our population.

    Sandwich generation feels the pressure during the coronavirus pandemic
    The sandwich generation – those supporting both children and parents – are facing heightened emotional and financial pressures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Who's been losing sleep during lockdown?
    The Covid-19 pandemic has caused sleeping difficulties for women with young children, key workers and people Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage. The study revealed that sleep loss is affecting more people during the Covid-19 pandemic, reflecting rising stress levels due to anxieties about health, financial consequences, changes in social life and daily routine, all of which may affect sleep.

    Parents report stronger relationships with their children during lockdown
    The Covid-19 crisis strengthened some parent-child relationships. About a quarter of parents in the Understanding Society COVID-19 survey reported that their relationship with their children became better as a result of the UK government’s stay at home policy in early 2020. Fewer than 5% reported it had become worse.

    Furlough makes couples’ relationships stronger
    The UK government’s furlough scheme has allowed many couples the time and flexibility for a better work-life balance, strengthening their relationships.

    Covid-19 spells trouble for millions of couples as study finds unemployment damages relationships
    Spells of unemployment can damage romantic relationships in both the short- and long- term, and are particularly disruptive for women.

    Being a grandparent and depression: how does it differ across England, Europe and China?
    Approximately one billion people in the world’s population are grandparents, which makes it crucial to examine the impact of grandparenting on grandparents’ health. Grandparenting is characterised by both cultural and individual variations. Understanding the complex impact of grandparenting on individuals’ health contributes to the global strategy of active ageing.

    Relationship quality and family formation in Europe. How country context shapes (un)happy couples’ transitions to marriage and first birth
    Marriage continues to be an important marker for relationship progression, on at least a symbolic level, in most of the European countries in this study; in four out of seven countries higher relationship quality was associated with getting married and, in all but one country, married couples were more likely than cohabiting couples to have a first birth.

    Estimating fertility
    Fertility is the most important of the three components for determining global population change. Demographers have known for decades that the total fertility rate, a measure used to calculate the number of children a woman would have in her lifetime, has been declining around the world.

    Gender attitudes and practices among married and cohabiting parents
    Compared to married counterparts, cohabitors tend to be more liberal in their attitudes towards gender roles. However, cohabiting households also tend to be less affluent and therefore they often have no choice in how they divide household responsibilities due to expensive childcare or employment conditions.

    Teenage pregnancy
    Declining rates of teenage pregnancies in England are related to local areas experiencing less youth unemployment, growing Black or South Asian teenage populations, more educational attainment, unaffordable housing, and a lack of available social housing.

    Households where the woman is the sole earner are significantly poorer
    The ESRC research project ‘Female Breadwinner Families in Europe’ has been shedding light on the economic characteristics of female-breadwinner couples using data from the Luxembourg Income Study.

    Abortion as telemedicine consultation
    During the Covid-19 epidemic, the UK government temporarily approved the use of medication abortion (that is, inducing an abortion using mifepristone and misoprostol pills) at home after a telephone or online consultation with a clinician. CPC researcher Heini Väisänen is part of the team of abortion research experts who have researched that the introduction of telemedicine has been beneficial and should be continued.

    Sexual and reproductive health literacy
    This study, led by Heini Väisänen, examines the relationship between health literacy and self-use of misoprostol to induce abortions in restrictive settings in Nigeria.

    Posted 08/07/2021 13:12