The number of births registered in Scotland between January and March hit a near-record low this year, according to official figures.
Statistics on the total number of births and deaths in the country indicate that in the first quarter of 2019 (between January 1 and March 31), a total of 12,642 births were registered.
It represents the second lowest number of births registered during that period since civil registration began in 1855, with only 2002 having a lower figure (12,374).
Researchers say there is no single reason for the fall in the number of births, but suggest that one of the causes could be people choosing to postpone having children until they are older.
Economic uncertainty has also been cited as influencing decisions around having children.
The number of deaths between January and March also fell to 15,306 this year, down from the number recorded during the same period in 2018 (17,771).
However, researchers have stated that the decrease was expected as the number of deaths last year was considered to be very high.
Figures also highlight that the number of cancer deaths fell by 5.2% to 3,996 this year during the period, while the number of deaths from coronary heart disease was down 10.5% to 1,740.
Deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease also dropped 24.2% to 1,678, while deaths from respiratory diseases fell by 30.8% to 1,985 and deaths from cerebrovascular disease were down by 21.1% to 962.
Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the fall in births highlights challenges in growing the population of Scotland.
“The number of births in Scotland has been decreasing long term, going back more than 50 years, and these statistics further emphasise the challenge we face in growing our population,” she said.
“We need to grow our population to ensure we have sustainable, vibrant and resilient communities and drive improvements in inclusive growth.
“Whilst there can be many drivers for growth, as things stand all of Scotland’s population growth over the next 25 years – including our working-age population – is projected to come from migration.
“Against the backdrop of increasingly inward-looking immigration policies being imposed by the UK Government, it is now imperative for Scotland to have the powers to develop a tailor-made migration policy that enables our businesses, communities and public services to thrive.”
The figures also recorded 3,198 marriages in total between January and March this year – 264 fewer than during the same period last year.
There were 130 same-sex marriages, the same number as there were in the same time last year.
Of the same-sex marriages registered in the first quarter, 11 (8.5%) were changes from civil partnerships.
There were also 14 civil partnerships (nine male and five female) between January and March – unchanged from the same period in 2018.