Has Hungary conceived a baby boom?

Oct 17, 2019 by

by Paul Morland, UnHerd:

Victor Orban is desperate to reverse his country’s declining fertility, but only one developed country has escaped the baby bust.

When an economy booms, as Hungary’s has, with the best growth figures for more than a decade, the resulting pressures tell you something significant about the country. In Hungary’s case, it is a shortage of people that is the worry, and the first professionals feeling the heat from the economic pick-up are recruitment consultants. The most acute shortage may be among IT professionals, but the pinch is now being felt at the blue-collar end as well —  there is currently a shortfall of about 100,000 workers in the labour market. It’s all  the result of a decades-long Hungarian birth dearth.

Much of the world is in a fertility free-fall. As a new report by the Institute for Family Studies illustrates, very low birth rates are becoming increasingly normal across the globe: the number of children born by each successive cohort is dropping rapidly. Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, almost all countries are below replacement fertility or on their way, and this applies both to rich and middle-income countries, to Christian, Muslim or officially atheist states.

Places such as China, Iran and Bangladesh have, at different times in the past 50 years, seen the number of children born per woman fall from six to three in the space of a decade or two, and in all three countries it is now much lower than that.

This has been achieved through different strategies; coercion in the case of China (although the six-to-three fall was actually achieved before the introduction of the One Child Policy); the blessing of the mullahs on birth control in the case of Iran; and a widespread, grassroots movement to spread understanding of and access to family planning in Bangladesh.

But in all the places where fertility rates have fallen fast, from Belize to Burma, governments have had the luxury of working with the basic grain of human development. Higher levels of literacy (especially for women), greater urbanisation and a rise in per capita income are invariably associated with smaller family size, so as countries develop, family size declines whether or not encouraged to do so by government.

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