What can governments do to make fertility rates go up?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Sept. 13 2007 6:35 PM

How To Make More Babies

What can governments do to make fertility rates go up?

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer. Click image to expand.

In Russia's Ulyanovsk province, amorous couples got the day off on Wednesday to have sex for the official Day of Conception. Anyone who has a baby nine months from now—on June 12, Russia Day —can compete for money, an SUV, and other prizes. The program is part of Russia's effort to combat the population decline that's been taking place for 15 years. Other nations in Europe and Asia also want to raise their fertility rates (PDF). What's the best way to convince people to have more kids?

Throw cash at new parents, and make it easy for them to balance their careers and families. Government benefits—in the form of tax credits, for example, or state-run day care—can make raising children more manageable. Last year, Vladimir Putin proposed a number of benefits designed to encourage large families, like long maternity leaves and $8,900 cash subsidies for stay-at-home mothers who have a second child. Some governments go one step further, doling out dating advice along with financial incentives for babies.

Advertisement

In France and the Scandinavian countries, which have some of the highest fertility rates in Europe, parents get lots of government help. A French maman has at least 16 weeks of mandatory, paid maternity leave, as well as guaranteed job security and—if she has a third child—a monthly stipend of up to 1,000 euros for a year. In Norway, women are entitled to 10 months at their full salary or a year at 80 percent. Because these policies have been in place for decades, the countries' fertility rates are approaching 2.1, roughly the point where a population can sustain itself without immigration. Other nations are emulating this approach: Spain now offers a 2,500 euro bonus for every baby born. South Korea, which has one of the world's lowest fertility rates, shells out $3,000 per couple for in-vitro fertilization. And in Germany, where women have an average of 1.3 babies, Angela Merkel proposed up to 1,800 euros a month for stay-at-home parents, and more day-care centers to improve the public image of working moms—who have long been dubbed Rabenmütter, or "raven mothers." (Countries plan these financial incentives carefully to avoid drawing in too many poor parents—and creating a bigger lower class.)

A few governments get right in your business when it comes to meeting mates. In Japan, the state sponsors speed dating (along with child-care reforms). Singapore provides a state matchmaking program catering to university grads—and relationship advice from the government.

So, will Russia's Day of Conception have any effect? Seventy-eight babies were born in Ulyanovsk province's hospitals in the month of June after last year's whoopee holiday. But that's just a 4.5 percent increase from before, and the limited measure probably won't make a dent in the population decline. The bar was a little higher back in the 1940s, when Stalin declared any woman who gave birth to 10 or more children a "Hero Mother."

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Jonathan Grant of RAND, Carl Haub of Population Reference Bureau, Geoffrey McNicoll of the Population Council, and Lisa Neidert at the University of Michigan.

Michelle Tsai is a Beijing-based writer working on a book about Chinatowns on six continents. She blogs at ChinatownStories.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 20 2014 3:40 PM Keeping It in the Family Why are so many of the world’s oldest companies in Japan?
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.