Declining birthrates worldwide signal an emerging crisis that has leaders in several countries worried. Fewer babies today can lead to a declining population that, in turn, launches an economic crisis difficult to reverse.
There are wrong ways to approach this. In Japan, a nation where many leaders already recognize the declining birthrate as a crisis, former health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa chose a demeaning approach several years ago when he referred to women as “baby-making machines” who have a duty to reproduce.
But there are more positive and uplifting ways to approach the problem, as well. Hungary may be on that path.
In Hungary, the population is in precipitous decline, having dropped from 10.8 million in 1980 to about 9.7 million today. As a result, the government has proposed and implemented several family-friendly policies. These include tax benefits encouraging couples to marry, three years of paid childcare leave, forgiveness of loans contingent on childbirth and mortgage benefits for families with three children or more. The government deposits money in a “baby bond” program for each child born, encouraging savings for the child’s education.
The site lifesightnews.com reported that a government official recently told a conference on the family in Rome that marriages have increased and divorces are down in Hungary. The fertility rate in Hungary has increased slightly with these policies, from an average of about 1.23 children per woman to 1.5. But that is still far below what demographers refer to as the replacement rate, which is about 2.1.
Other nations have tried different approaches. Denmark began a stark (some might say crass) series of television ads encouraging procreation to provide joy to grandmothers. Britain’s The Independent says Danish media reported a mini baby boom shortly after the campaign.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin announced a series of measures late last year aimed at that nation’s sagging birthrate. Russian women now receive $180 a month for 18 months after the birth of their first child.
The birthrate should be of concern in the United States, as well, where fertility rates have gone from 3.7 in 1960 to below 1.8 percent today. A sustained strong economy hasn’t helped those figures, as a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed.
Meanwhile, the world’s overall fertility rate is on a steady decline, standing at 2.4 in 2016. Even if it falls below replacement levels, demographers say overall numbers won’t decline until the generation that last reproduced at a rate of 2.1 or higher has died off. But then the decline would begin, and bad things would happen.
As a nation loses people, its population begins to skew much older. In the United States, that would mean fewer workers to prop up Social Security and Medicare and an even more overburdened health care system. It also would mean the growing national debt would be harder, if not impossible, to control or reduce.24 comments on this story
But that’s just the start. Buildings would fall vacant, businesses would struggle with diminishing sales, schools would close and infrastructure would crumble as governments decide which programs to curtail because of declining revenues.
The time to counter these trends is now. Government policies do not need to mirror what Hungary has instituted, but they should be changed to encourage marriage and family, the institution so vital to nurturing future generations. Immigration, long the nation’s key to an increasing population, should be encouraged.
The consequences of not doing these things will be dramatic.