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Fertility in Uruguay dropped to extremely low levels

Fertility in Uruguay has dropped drastically in the last six years, with around 49,000 births in 2015 and just over 32,000 in 2022.

What lies behind this shocking decline is revealed in the scientific study “La gran caída. El descenso de la fecundidad uruguaya a niveles ultra-bajos (2016-2021),” presented last Tuesday by researchers from the Population Program of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of the Republic.

This work, conducted by Wanda Cabella, Mariana Fernández, Ignacio Pardo, and Gabriela Pedetti, shows that with the preliminary data from 2022, the fertility rate is below 1.3 children per woman, which is why it was classified as “ultra-low.”

Fertility in Uruguay, Fertility in Uruguay dropped to extremely low levels
The team concluded that half of the sharp decline in fertility was due to the decline in adolescent fertility among women aged 15-19 and early fertility among women aged 20-24 (Photo internet reproduction)

In addition to the significant decline, what worries the research team the most is that it occurred within a short period of time, which simultaneously aroused curiosity about the causes.

As Pardo explained during the presentation, the report aims to “describe the trend and explore the demographic mechanisms that may have caused the decline.”

“And, at the same time, initiate a debate about what social, economic, cultural or regulatory factors may have favored behaviors that led to a decline in fertility in Uruguay in such a short period and accelerated manner.”

In analyzing Uruguay’s fertility rate over the past 25 years, the report distinguishes three phases:

Between 1996 and 2005, births dropped from 59,000 to 48,000.

2005 to 2015 marked a “relative stability” period, with about 48,000 births yearly.

The third phase, starting in 2016, is called the “great decline,” marking a steeper and accelerated drop to an extremely low level: from 48,000 births to 32,000 in 2022.

That is, from an average of two children per woman to 1.28.

Compared with other countries in the region, such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil, the drop to a very low level of about 1.5 children is a phenomenon that also occurs outside Uruguay.

In this sense, Pardo explained that although some factors that explain the decline are similar, Uruguay is experiencing a certain peculiarity regarding the speed of the birth decline.

Another important aspect that the research team has observed is that the decline in fertility has occurred in all age groups, year after year and until the last available data in 2021.

“If we compare with countries that have similar fertility rates but where the decline is more complete and earlier, for example, by postponing the first birth, we have a very special situation: in Uruguay, the age of mothers at the time of the first birth is more dispersed,” Pardo said.


Regarding the demographic mechanisms that could explain the fertility decline, the report identifies three main reasons:

  • stopping, i.e., limiting the number of children;
  • postponing the age of childbearing, especially of the first child – even if later births make up this postponement, it does not lead to a reduction in cohort fertility;
  • and the increase in ultimate nulliparity, i.e., the peak of a woman’s reproductive period without having had children.

The team concluded that half of the sharp decline in fertility was due to the decline in adolescent fertility among women aged 15-19 and early fertility among women aged 20-24.

On the other hand, they stressed that other phenomena could contribute to the decline in fertility, which is why “discussions are still pending,” such as the analysis of possible non-demographic social mechanisms that influence reproductive behavior.

Along these lines, the researchers cited as an example the role that improving options for avoiding unplanned pregnancies, such as voluntary termination of pregnancy (VTP), may have played. However, they clarified that the data do not show a significant increase in the number of abortions.

They also pointed to subdermal implants as a factor that has been shown to affect the decline in unintended early and adolescent fertility.

As for the causes of the decline in birth rates in other age groups, Pardo acknowledged that identifying those causes “is a bit more complicated, and more research is needed.”

In any case, she ventured to offer some hints, ranging from certain changes in social norms that may affect the intention to seek pregnancy, to difficulties in balancing work and family, to strengthening the feminist movement in Uruguay.


When asked by the press about the challenges Uruguay faces in restoring the birth rate, Pardo replied:

“This is a major problem worldwide because the birth rate is declining almost everywhere, except in countries where it is already very low.”

“However, this is not usually the recommendation that comes out of research, but the position we tend to take is to try to create conditions so that both the sons and daughters born and the mothers and fathers can live and develop in the best possible conditions.”

Regarding policies that reward births, the researcher recalled that there had not been a significant increase in births in countries where such policies have been applied.

“It’s a very controversial issue that has many sides. But it’s not necessarily solved by trying to get more births.”

“People must be able to decide for themselves how many children to have and when, and that parenthood is compatible with the other things we do in life, apart from being parents.”

“For example, we are still a long way from having care systems that guarantee the conditions for having children.”

“This could be a priority; perhaps births will stop declining and even increase a little. The children that have already been born can be an example that it is possible to have children and that life is not complicated.”

Wanda Cabella, lecturer of the Population Program at the Faculty of Social Sciences, added:

“As the population ages, also because births are decreasing, policies must succeed in creating wealth for all generations.”

“We cannot expect the number of births to remain the same because that would mean that families would regress, and so would the situation of women.”

Among the policies that could be taken to create the necessary conditions for childbearing, she cited the need to further improve the leave system for caregivers, especially in the early years of life.

“There are improvements [in the leave system], but it is still only a few months, and it is difficult to reconcile parenthood and work, especially for women who have more loss of income and who find it difficult to re-enter the labor market after the birth of a child.”

For Cabella, societal changes have had a positive impact, leading to couples having the children they want at the age they want to have them.

“We are getting closer and closer to that, right?”

“From my point of view, which demographers generally share in Uruguay, it’s not about encouraging women to have more children because that’s not how it works, and we risk not respecting their rights.”

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