Iceland tops European birth rate chart

21st March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Experts credit Iceland’s recent jump in births largely to an improved parental leave policy, which allows both mothers and fathers to take time off.

Reykjavik -- Iceland last year saw its birth rate jump to 2.14 children per woman, making it Europe's most prolific country, largely due to improved parental leave, the national statistics agency said Thursday.

"The main reason is the paternity leave implemented around 2000," Statistics Iceland spokesman Gudjon Hauksson told AFP, adding that more advantageous compensation for both mothers and fathers on leave had also contributed to the increase.

Last year, the Atlantic island nation of some 320,000 people registered 4,835 live births -- an increase of 275 babies from 2007, when the birth rate stood at 2.09 children per woman, according to the statistics office.

"Only twice in the history of Iceland have there been more children born in one year, i.e. in 1960 and 1959," it said in a statement.

Iceland thus tops the charts as Europe's most prolific country, coming out ahead of European Union champion France where the birth rate last year stood at 2.02 children per woman.

At the beginning of the decade, Iceland began offering a total of nine months of parental leave, of which the mother is entitled to three months, the father to three months and the remaining period is split between the two. Both receive 80 percent of their salaries during their time off.

While Iceland's parental leave is less generous than what is available in the other Nordic countries, the addition of "paternity leave definitely explains the trend seen last year," Hauksson said.

Nearly two thirds of the babies on the island are born out of wedlock, while 13.3 percent are born to parents who live apart, according to Statistics Iceland.


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