The maternity gap

Embarazada5

Susana Roque is a 35-year-old lawyer. She would very much like to have a baby, but she has decided to give priority to her doctoral course.

Her husband and her mother-in-law have told her on numerous occasions that they will always be there to help her out.

"He already got his PhD. It is my turn now," she stressed.

Most Cuban women professionals think very much like her. The Global Fertility Rate (GFR) on the island stood at 1.7 children per woman in 2009, but the population replacement rate (one daughter per woman, at least) has been extremely low in the last 30 years.

The number of childbirths has been dropping since the early 1990s, merely reaching 111,323 in 2006.

Some women decide to have babies when they are already old and can have only one.

Sustained low fertility rates inexorably lead to population aging, experts say.

The National Fertility Survey in 2009 showed that such a process has had quite a negative impact on healthcare, education, and social security.

Zulema Carrillo is a 23-year-old university professor. "Having a baby is important to me, but I think too much about economic difficulties in Cuba today. There is still plenty of time," she said.

Entitled Gender identity and maternity, a recent study revealed that most young women on the island attach more importance to meeting their educational and professional aspirations than becoming mothers.

Conducted by Lien Más, a researcher at the Women's Study Center, the research work concluded that professional motivations have quite an impact on women's fertility. The study involved 30 young women (15 mothers and 15 non mothers).

Other factors

Other studies have identified a close interrelationship between fertility and economic factors.

Out of 1.5 million women making up the local economically active population, 1.4 million (93 percent) are in working and breeding age. They are 36 years old on average; 51 percent are intermediate-level technicians; and 20 percent are university graduates.

Amalia Plana, an expert at the National Office of Statistics' Population and Development Study Center, told SEMlac that working women have children only after they complete their studies.

In the non-economically active population, there are 1.7 million women in working age (17 to 54), 1.6 million in breeding age (15 to 49), and 1.5 million both in working and breeding age.

They are 31 years old on average, and have a relatively low educational level. Around 60 percent have merely completed secondary education, and only two percent went to college.

While those in the economically active population have one or two children, those in the non-economically active population start having children when they are very young and usually have three children or more.

Service workers, technicians and professionals exhibit the highest fertility rates in the first group and housewives and students, in the second group. The former have the first child at 27 and the latter, at 24.

"Working women have over 50 percent of the total number of newborns today," Plana indicated.

"The local fertility rate will probably stand at a similar level in the near future," she anticipated.

Stimulating fertility

No educational campaign has been launched in the country to increase fertility and birth rates. These rates have been influenced only by economic, political and social conditions.

"Against this background, there is a need to formulate effective social policies and further develop the infrastructure (day-care centers, laundries, etc.)," stressed Plana.

"There have been successful foreign experiences that can well be replicated here. For example, the fertility rate in Norway was so low at some point in time that the government decided to provide economic aid to parents until their children turned 18. We have to devise our own solutions, including a boost to the construction of new houses," she concluded.

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