NISRA has just released its provisional figures for births in 2009.
The overall number of births, as well as the birth rate (births per 1,000 population) and the TPFR (Total Period Fertility Rate - the average number of children that would be born in a cohort of woman who experienced, throughout their childbearing years, the fertility rates of the calendar year in question) have all turned down again, after a period of increase following the low point of 2000.
As in previous years, the pattern is one of apparently higher birth rates, and a higher TPFR in nationalist areas. The tables blow shows the 26 district council areas ordered according to: (1) their birth rates, and (2) their TPFR.
District councils are coloured green if the child-bearing cohort (average age 29.8 in 2009, thus 21 in 2001) was majority Catholic (by community background (religion or religion brought up in)) in the 2001 census, or orange if that childbearing cohort was majority Protestant in 2001. District council areas where neither community had over 55% of the 21-y.o. in 2001 are left uncoloured.
Of the 'top 10', only one is 'orange', while five are 'green' and four are mixed. In fact, in the top 14 there is still only one 'orange' area! The 'bottom 10' contains six 'orange' areas but only three 'green' ones, and one mixed.
The coefficient of correlation between the birth rate and the percentage of the child-bearing cohort that is Catholic in the 26 districts is a very significant 0.61. The coefficient of correlation between the birth rate and the percentage of the child-bearing cohort that is Protestant is an equally significant minus 0.60.
Of the 'top 10', only two are 'orange' areas – four are 'green' and four are mixed. Of the 'bottom 10', six are 'orange', three are 'green' and one is mixed.
Only one 'orange' area has a TPFR above the 'replacement level' (2.10), while 4 'green' (and 4 mixed) areas do.
The coefficient of correlation between the TPFR and the percentage of the child-bearing cohort that is Catholic in the 26 districts is 0.34. The coefficient of correlation between the TPFR and the percentage of the child-bearing cohort that is Protestant is minus 0.33.
Although the figures are not absolutely black-and-white, there is at least statistical evidence that areas that are 'more Catholic' have both a higher birth rate and a higher TPFR than areas that are 'more Protestant'. No real conclusions can be drawn about who, within these areas, are actually having the babies, but it is unlikely if, for example, Newry and Mourne's high birth rate is being sustained by the small (17%) share of its 29 year-olds who are Protestant. Likewise, Carrickfergus's low birth rate cannot be entirely blamed on its tiny Catholic population.
It is not unreasonable to draw the conclusion from these figures, that the overall Catholic birth rate is still higher than the overall Protestant birth rate. Since 50.4% of the 21 year-olds in 2001 were from a Catholic community background (against 46.3% who were from a Protestant community background), it is likely that the proportion of the children born in 2009 into a Catholic community background exceeds the proportion born into a Protestant community background. The size of the Catholic community lead is hard to measure at this stage, but the results of the Schools Census suggest that it could be as high as 10%. The next decennial census (in 2011) will throw more light on this.