The assignment we have been given asks us to interrogate a dataset and visualise the results we find, posing social questions along the way. We searched for datasets from a number of sources: the European Open Data Portal, publicdata.eu, data.gov.ie & the CSO.ie. Our team found a dataset from the CSO which contains data pertaining to the average age of mothers in Ireland, domiciliary birth rates and births inside vs. outside marriage.
The data raises many interesting questions, and in this report we want to concentrate on the difference between birth rates inside and outside of marriages. We will focus our attention on the emerging trends in births inside and outside of marriages. Moreover we will be examining the causes of these trends, these being: fertility treatments, Irish law, religion & stigmatisation. Our visualisations will back up our arguments. The visualisations were initially going to be done on Tableau visualisation software, but the majority of the data sets on cso.ie and StatBank were not compatible. To get Tableau to recognise the data sets it was necessary to almost completely re-do the data set itself. On top of that Tableau is a very complex software package, and it would have taken much longer had we done the visualisations on it. We chose to use Google Sheets as it is a free service that can easily be linked in to the collaborative document we had created on Google Docs.
The data we will be analysing is seen above. We wish to account for the steady increase in births outside marriage and the decrease of births within.
MODERN FERTILITY PROCEDURES
One factor we might consider when talking about birth rates inside and outside of marriage are modern fertility treatments. If we were to consider modern contraception laws introduced in 1980 and 1985 in Ireland, then we could account for the steep drop in birth rates seen in Ireland around this period.
Single women having children through sperm donation is a notable progressive trend in Irish society. This ties in with the rising ages of mothers (seen from our dataset) as over 3 quarters of women looking to have children through sperm donation are over 37, according to the Cork fertility clinic. (2)
With divorce rates on the rise – newly divorced women may feel as though having children on their own is safer than waiting to find the right partner. Working women also fall into this category. IVF treatments are increasingly being performed on single women as well as egg freezing for women of all ages. (1) Egg freezing allows for greater flexibility and a chance to beat the biological clock. This trend is being seen in the West on a large scale. https://www.singlemothersbychoice.org/ is an organisation dedicated to helping women who – for whatever reason, actively want to conceive their children without a partner. Education rates go hand in hand with lower birth rates for women, so it’s no surprise that this trend is focused in developed countries.
CULTURE AND RELIGION
We see cultural diversity impacting on birth rates. This may be seen as an impact of globalisation in the West as opposed to immigration from countries where marriage is unimportant. In fact, much more emphasis is put on marriage in most of the countries with the highest levels of emigration to Ireland). In 2017, there may be less of a cultural pressure to get married when compared to the days of Ireland all the way up to the eighties. The current legal system surrounding marriage affords a non-marital family much more liberties in comparison to previous decades (3) (maybe not for fathers).
While Ireland could still do a lot more to support single parents (A Family Support Agency survey in 2011 found high levels of loneliness and depression among lone parents), there has been a massive shift in our opinion of single mothers; globally as well as at home.
This is just one example of a shift in cultural behaviour, it can also be noted that lifestyle patterns from different countries often influence the Irish standard. Abortion rates in Ireland have been falling dramatically, and the stereotype of very young women accidentally falling pregnant only to have their lives ruined is a narrative that is being seen much less. Our improved sex ed and access (through the UK and Netherlands specifically (5) to abortion options mean that if a woman falls pregnant carried the child to term she has decided to become a mother.
A correlation may be drawn between an increase in birth rates outside of marriage and the ever increasing separation of church and state. Despite Ireland still being far from a secular state, the difference in attitudes and social power since the eighties has been staggering. In modern Ireland, couples are free to distance themselves and their marriage from the church as they see fit, but up until less than four decades ago, the opinions of the church held heavy sway on marriage and pregnancy. Births out of wedlock at the time were heavily damning socially and lawfully, since the Catholic church had such control over the period.
One has but to look at the Magdalene Laundries to see the evidence of this.
‘Mother-and-baby homes were part of an interlocking set of organizations, both publicly and privately funded, that tried to control the scandal of babies born outside of marriage. ‘(4)
Single women who had given birth and single pregnant women were often forced into these laundries by either family or religious authorities. They were forced to work in the laundries for years at a time on occasion, and the babies were taken away from the mothers shortly after birth. The laundries were operated by congregations of nuns that sought to protect society from the contagion of “wayward” women while simultaneously attempting to reform them through a harsh regimen of laundry work and devotional rituals. These laundries had no basis in law, yet they were funded by the Church and by the Irish Government.(5)
A lot of cases of accidental pregnancy would have resulted in the man and woman marrying to avoid the supposed “shame” that was associated with bearing a child out of wedlock, and perhaps also out of fear of the repercussions if they did not. As the power and authority of the church wanes we can see a dramatic increase in the amount of births outside of marriage. This is a progressive trend that reflects the changes in Irish society. While the overall birth rates in Ireland dropped around the time contraception was legalised and introduced in Ireland, we can clearly see that the birth rates outside of marriage continued to increase. This is another aspect of the changes in Irish religion, as the church at the time was a strong opponent of contraception. The decrease in overall births and the increase in births outside of marriage highlights the changes in religious authority very clearly.
In previous years in Ireland, there was a massive stigma around the idea of single women having children. It is something that was frowned upon by both society and the church.
It wasn’t until the group “Cherish”, which was founded by Maura O’Dea Richards in 1972, that women had any supports in this country (7). The name “Cherish” was taken from the 1916 Proclamation which declared that Ireland would ‘cherish all of the children of the nation equally’.
Because the majority of single mothers either travelled to England for an abortion or else put the baby up for adoption, most women who did decide to keep their babies had very little support in the matter. Single pregnant women were often thrown out of their homes, lost their jobs and were rejected by their communities. It was extremely difficult for them to keep and raise their children themselves.
A year after it was founded, Cherish lobbied government officials and in 1973 the unmarried mother’s allowance was introduced. At £8.15, this was the first social welfare scheme that acknowledged single mothers.
Another massive change at the time was once again made by the group “Cherish” was the “Status of Children Act, 1987”. This act effectively abolished the status of illegitimacy. The act states that “the relationship between every person and his father and mother (or either of them) shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be determined irrespective of whether his father and mother are or have been married to each other, and all other relationships shall be determined accordingly.”(8) In introducing this act, the Irish Government significantly reduced the stigma towards unmarried single women. The birth rates outside of marriage continued to steadily increase at this time. These supports allowed women the freedom to have a child outside of marriage if they so chose, and lessened the social stigma around single mothers.
It is plain to see that birth rates in marital and non-marital circumstances have multiple of influences. Birth rates within marriage are still much higher than births within, but for first time mothers especially, this gap is getting smaller. The visualisations we combined with our information surrounding the marriage rates serve as a visually stimulating, crucial backbone to our observations.
(6) Brian Titley, (2006) “Heil Mary: Magdalen asylums and moral regulation in Ireland”, History of Education Review, Vol. 35 Issue: 2.