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Falling birth rate: Demographic transition or disaster?

Hungary is in a state of demographic transition in which women have better chances of getting a good education, building a career or trying their hands in various fields then ever before. However, this also puts off any plans they may have for a family, leaving governments with a delicate balancing act to strike between allowing for equal opportunities while creating incentives to offset the 2% drop in the country’s overall population over the course of a decade.

The government is in the process of drafting new family support measures with the admitted goal of convincing women of childbearing age to have more children, rather than spending their youth at work, and with good reason.

Experts have for a while been voicing concerns about an impending demographic disaster that is largely due to women putting off giving birth to build their careers and, as a result, ending up having fewer kids than they originally planned.

True enough, every calculation shows that the reduction in Hungary’s national headcount is unwavering. The Central Statistics Office (KSH) found that the 55,008 children born in the first seven months of 2013 marked a 3.3% drop from the corresponding period last year. The drop can be measured over a longer span as well with the 2011 census counting altogether 9.982 million people, a drop of 2.1% from the last survey in 2001.

In terms of births, the past three crisis years have provided all the negative records. According to the KSH’s Demographic Research Institute, the lowest ever monthly figure was in April 2011 with 6,361 births. In contrast the peak of 1954 – aided heavily by a ban on abortion at the time – saw 20,344 new births.

The currently debated measures, expected to take effect from the start of 2014, will, it is hoped, fundamentally change attitudes through revisions to the tax and subsidy system and convince women to choose staying home with their children over going to work at a younger age.

Incentives on the table include expanding the range of family tax benefits, mothers entitlement to maternity’ pay would be extended to encourage women who have recently given birth to conceive again shortly afterwards and there are also plans to waive at least part of the total student loans that now cover tuition fees as an encouragement to bear children at a younger age.