Hungary is increasing its already generous government support to families in the country in an effort to encourage a higher birth rate. The government’s hope is to increase the birth rate from 1.5 to above a replacement rate of 2.1 by 2030. Some are already pointing to results: the country’s birth rate has increased annually from 2011 when it hit a low of 1.23.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a seven-point “Family Protection Action Plan” that includes lifetime income tax breaks for women raising more than four children, state support for those buying seven-seat vehicles, favorable mortgage rates for families with multiple children, increased spending on the public healthcare system, and increased spending on preschool and kindergarten. Existing support for families in the country includes paid childcare leave, maternity support, tax benefits, and housing allowances, as well as subsidized textbooks and decreased utility costs. Orban’s announcement of the new pro-family measures included sharp criticism of “mixed population countries.” His concern seems to be based at least in part on a desire to prevent Christian families from becoming a minority in the country. The plan is likely to pass.
These measures are in keeping with Hungary’s pro-family constitution, adopted in 2011. Article L of the Hungarian Constitution specifically states that “Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children.” Last year in a conference given at the Vatican, Minister of State for Family, Youth, and International Affairs Katalin Novak highlighted the country’s pro-family policies and discussed the downward demographic trends. “A precondition of the medium and long-term social development and the sustainability of Hungary is a lasting turn in demographic trends,” she stated. “The objective can be achieved with a stable, complex, targeted and flexible family policy that is capable of adapting to changing needs and conditions.”
Since the implementation of the robust support for families and the adoption of the pro-life constitution, Hungary saw a 22.9% decline in abortions from 2010 to 2015.
Just to put things in perspective- the Hungarian government has worked for years to turn around family demografics and has achieved results! https://t.co/xIeZbdSROG
— Eduard Habsburg (@EduardHabsburg) February 11, 2019
Hungary is not the only European country to enact similar fertility-encouraging measures. In 2014 a private travel company in Denmark launched their humorous and provocative “Do it for Denmark” ad campaign in order to encourage a population boom to counteract declining births and an increasing elderly population. The campaign also involved “Do it for Mom,” which highlighted the pressure on Danish welfare systems that could be relieved through having babies. In 2016, a fertility push from the Italian government fell flat.
Critics of Hungary’s Prime Minister have cited concerns that the country’s 2011 Constitutional revisions and subsequent measures have eroded the separation of powers. Some claim that financial pressures applied to independent media has removed an important source of criticism, raising concerns about the state of free democracy within the country. In September, the EU voted to punish Hungary for what it sees as a a violation of democratic norms.
Declining birth rates are a trend in many developed countries as younger generations forego families to pursue careers. In Europe, as of 2016 statistics, the top five countries by population in Europe have birth rates below the replacement rate of 2.1: Germany (1.6), France (1.92), United Kingdom (1.79), Italy (1.34), and Spain (1.34). Only the country of Georgia, at 2.23, has a birth rate that exceeds replacement. According to Zenit, Pope Francis has observed that Europe is suffering a period of “dramatic sterility” not only because “all too many were denied the right to be born, but also because there has been a failure to pass on the material and cultural tools that young people need to face the future.”
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