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Poland and Hungary: family programs in the face of Spanish birth rates

The investment in family in Poland and Hungary has shown a strong contrast with the bleak outlook of the birth rate in Spain, according to a conference on 'Birth Rate and Family Support Policies' at the Universitat Abat Oliba CEU. The Polish Deputy Minister of Family, Barbara Socha, and the Hungarian Ambassador to Spain, Katalin Tóth, showed yesterday the commitment to the family of their countries.

Francisco Otamendi-November 15, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes

Last year, Spain had 11.5 million more inhabitants than in 1976, to 47.5 million, but 50 % fewer children were born than 45 years earlier. Fertility has fallen to 1.2 children per woman, "a catastrophically low level". In Spain more people die than are born, said Alejandro Macarrón, coordinator of the CEU's Demographic Observatory.

With recent Spanish fertility patterns, 40 % or more of young Spaniards will not have even one child, and of older Spaniards, about half will not even have a grandchild. A generation and a half ago, only 10 to 12 % of Spaniards were childless, the expert added.

He continued: The vast majority of families in Spain with children have only one or two children, and truly large families (with 4 or 5 children, or more) are now a tiny percentage of the total. Until 40-50 years ago, large families were very abundant.

These and other data, presented by Alejando Macarrón in the morning, contrasted with the commitment to the family and the birth rate launched in the afternoon by the representatives of Hungary and Poland.

Investment for the future

"Family is the most important value for us, it is even more important than having good health, a good career, economic prosperity, wealth, good friends or success in general. We identify happiness as family happiness," said Barbara Socha, number 2 of Poland's Family Department, telematically.

"All the measures we take in Poland are aimed at creating an appropriate environment for starting a family and having children. This is a necessary investment in Poland's future. It is a challenge, not only for the Polish government, but also for local governments, employees, and non-governmental organizations and many other stakeholders," the deputy minister noted.

The Polish politician then outlined programs and plans to support families, such as Family500+, now general benefits for raising children; the Good Start Program, designed to support families with children in schools, regardless of income; or another instrument created this year, Family Care Capital, which helps implement forms for childcare for children under 3 years old with preferences that parents have, in addition to a card for large families, the Large Family Cardwhich is used by 1.2 million families in Poland, and so on.

Economic and family policy, hand in hand

For her part, the Hungarian ambassador to Spain, Katalin Tóth, stressed that "we invest 6.2 % of GDP to help families, a percentage that has no comparison in other countries", and the main objective is that "parents can have as many children as they want and when they want".

"We want to help families plan their future, with children, so that they can think about starting a large family," the Hungarian ambassador added. The key, in her view, is that "the success of economic policy and the success of family policy go hand in hand," and "enable young couples to realize their family-related goals."

"In Hungary, having children is not the privilege of some, but of all," she added, before giving a brief summary of the Hungarian Constitution: "Human dignity is inviolable, every human being has the right to life and human dignity, and the life of the fetus must be protected from conception. Moreover, the ambassador added that "Hungary will protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman on a voluntary basis," and "we are neither homophobic nor fascist," she added. On the other hand, "the more children, the less income tax you pay," she said.

When more people die than are born

The speech heard in the morning was quite different. "After decades with a great insufficiency of births for the generational change" -situated at 2.1 children per woman in countries with almost no infant and child mortality-, "for years in Spain more people have been dying than being born, and the differential is growing", Alejandro Macarrón had stated. "And without considering the impact of immigrants in births (many) and deaths (few), being more fecund and younger on average than Spaniards, since 2014 the deaths of native Spaniards already exceed by one million the babies of mothers born in Spain since then."

In more than a few Spanish provinces, "deaths are double the number of births. In some, they triple them," added the CEU expert. "As a consequence, if fertility does not increase, the native Spanish population, according to INE, UN or Eurostat projections, would decrease by around 14-16 million people in the next 50 years. The total population variation would be a function of this enormous loss and of how much new foreign immigration comes (and how many children it then has here)".

The conference, which was an initiative of the Plataforma per la Familia Catalunya-ONU and the CEU Institute of Family Studies, was inaugurated by the rector Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga, and was also attended by Daniel Arasa, president of the platform; Luciano Malfer, head of family policies in Trento (Italy); María Calvo Charro, professor of Administrative Law at the Carlos III University; Carmen Fernández de la Cigoña, director of the CEU Institute of the Family; Raúl Sánchez, secretary general of the European Confederation of Large Families Associations (ELFAC); Eva López, deputy mayor of the Castelldefels City Council, and members of the candidates for mayor of Barcelona in the upcoming municipal elections. 

On the other hand, at the 'Fighters for the Family' awards ceremony, the international award went to the president of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations of Europe, Vincenzo Bassiinterviewed by Omnes in June of this year, and that of the national category, for the president of Neos and One of Us, Jaime Mayor Orejaalso interviewed by Omnes, by the end of 2021.

Cultural change in the face of aging

Some additional data put on the table by Alejandro Macarrón are that the average age of the population of Spain has increased from 33 years in 1976 to 44 years in 2022, and 46 native Spaniards. Approximately 75 % of this increase has been due to the collapse of the birth rate, and the consequent decline in the child and youth population, he said.

"The enormous aging of the population due to the lack of children and young people, which will continue to grow significantly if the birth rate does not increase, has very negative consequences on the economy (much more spending on pensions, health and dependency; less demand for consumption and investment; less and less productive labor force; etc.) and on innovation and social dynamism. And it profoundly alters the electorate, as retirees become the preponderant segment with homogeneous interests (electoral gerontocracy)," stressed Macarrón.

Moreover, it is true that immigration palliates the lack of birth rate of the autochthonous. But speaking of productivity, to which Josep Miró i Ardevol, president of e-Cristians, referred, it is worth remembering that the "only agent providing human capital is the family. And if the human capital is immigration, its productivity is below that of the natives," he pointed out.

Finally, the CEU expert outlined policies to promote the birth rate in Spain, in the context of the need for "a pro-birth and pro-family cultural change. Without that, little or nothing will be achieved," he said. In short, they include raising awareness of the problem, giving prestige to maternity/paternity and the family, without stigmatizing traditional mothers (who do not work outside the home), and not stigmatizing the figure of the father; compensating fathers economically and fiscally for having children; relieve companies of all maternity/paternity costs; encourage and facilitate having the first (and subsequent) children earlier; make life easier for fathers; involve civil society ("this is not just a problem of policies and politicians"), and "do not harass religion. People of faith have more children," he said.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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