Average life expectancy in Italy fell by a year to 82.3 years, the country’s national statistics office revealed on Wednesday.
In Spain just 23,226 babies were born in December, a fifth less than in the same month last year, and the lowest figure since the Second World War.
These record-breaking trends in life expectancy and births have been mirrored throughout Europe, including in Britain, where Covid and the draconian restrictions imposed to combat the disease have irrevocably changed demographics.
In Britain, PwC has forecast there will have been just 569,000 babies born in 2020 – the lowest figure since 1900 and even worse than the numbers during the world wars.
Gravediggers working in Italy at the height of the Covid pandemic which saw the north of the country ravaged by the virus. Average life expectancy in Italy fell by a year to 82.3 years, the country’s national statistics office revealed on Wednesday.
In Spain, just 23,226 babies were born in December, a fifth less than in the same month last year, and the lowest figure since the Second World War (stock image)
Meanwhile a study by researchers at Oxford found that life expectancy had fallen by 0.9 and 1.2 years for females and males compared to the year before respectively.
Life expectancy in the UK has steadily improved over the last five decades, and although it had stagnated in more recent years, to see it fall comes as a huge shock.
Life expectancy was 83.5 for females and 79.9 for males in 2019, with the Oxford researchers predicting that these numbers had fallen to 82.6 and 78.7 respectively.
Italy’s national statistics office Istat said on Wednesday that life expectancy had fallen most in the northern regions which were hardest hit by the pandemic and the first affected in Europe.
Life expectancy in Lombardy fell from 83.7 years in 2019 to 81.2 years.
Before the pandemic took its toll, life expectancy across Italy had risen from 81.7 years in 2010 to 83.2 years in 2019, putting the country near the top of European Union tables.
The bloc’s average stood at 81 years in 2018, according to Istat, the most recent EU-wide statistic.
Estimates for 2020 ‘suggest a sudden halt and a significant reversal of the trend of continuous improvement in life expectancy observed in recent years,’ Istat said.
In Madrid, the INE statistics agency revealed the lowest number of December births since 1941 which it linked to having had one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
‘Even though the number of births has been in a constant decline trend for several years, the fall has been accentuated nine months after the lockdown during the first state of (coronavirus) emergency,’ an INE statement said.
However, even though Spain’s initial coronavirus lockdown remained in effect for the whole of April 2020, the number of babies born in January 2021, nine months later, edged up a little to 24,061.
Demographics experts have been forecasting a baby bust across Europe for 2021, as young people of child-bearing age have generally suffered the worst economic hit from lockdowns to to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Spain’s fertility rate, the second lowest in Europe after tiny Malta, is still suffering the consequences of the double-dip recession caused by financial and debt crises in 2008-2012.
Similar pandemic-associated declines in births have emerged in neighbouring European countries hit hard by the pandemic such as Italy and France.
Births in Italy in December plunged by 21.6%, according to a survey released by statistics agency ISTAT, while births fell to the lowest level in France in 2020 since World War Two, according to the French statistics agency INSEE.
In Spain, births were already falling fast before the coronavirus, posting a 16% drop between 2014 and 2019.
As well as emotional challenges for couples wanting children, in the long run there will also be economic challenges for countries that may face years of struggle to pull themselves out of the economic slump caused by the pandemic.
Fewer births means fewer and older workers. This could over time crimp economic output and strain public pension schemes and welfare systems, widening the gap between the richer north of Europe, where birth rates are higher, and the poorer south.