Germany births jump 10% in March to highest in 23 years

FILE PHOTO: Children play at their Kindergarten in Hanau, 30km (18 miles) south of Frankfurt, March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany continued to buck the global trend for falling birth rates during the coronavirus pandemic, reporting a 10% jump in March to the highest figure since 1998, the Statistics Office said on Tuesday.

Germany had already reported a 6% rise in births in February. The number of births in March came in at 65,903, about 5,900 more than a year ago and the first time the 65,000 figure was exceeded since 1998, the Statistics Office said.

The increase comes nine months after the first wave of the coronavirus started to ebb in Germany in May last year and the first lockdown measures were eased.

The Statistics Office said birth rates had stabilised in countries like Spain, France or Belgium that were harder hit by the first wave of the coronavirus, while they had also jumped in March in other European countries, particularly in the east.

Many countries have seen their birth rates fall during the COVID-19 crisis, prompting national soul searching: Chinese births fell 18% last year to their lowest since 1961 and the U.S. birth rate declined 4% to its weakest since 1979.

In Germany, births in 2020 were down just 0.6% and were steady in January, which suggests the first coronavirus lockdown had a minimal impact on fertility decisions.

Population experts have attributed the German exception to family-friendly policies and higher migration as well as the country's promptness in assuring people they would be paid by the state if they could not work during the lockdown.

Europe's largest economy used to have one of the lowest fertility rates in the region as conservative social norms and policies made it hard for women to reconcile families and work, compounding Germany's labour shortage as baby boomers retire.

That started to change as Chancellor Angela Merkel expanded parental benefits and state investment in childcare from 2005. Her 2015 decision to let in over a million mostly young refugees from Syria and elsewhere gave a further boost.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing Philippa Fletcher)

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