Population policies for low fertility countries: the need for thinking beyond the conventional repertory

Paul Demeny, Population Council

A dominant tone of policy discussions in Europe concerning measures that may raise birth rates has undergone a notable shift in the most recent years. A palpably higher degree of complacency about the diagnosis of possible social and economic problems caused by very low fertility and about the adequacy of corrective remedies that may be required now tends to prevail. As expected, a modest increase of birth rates has accompanied the end of the shift of maternity schedules toward higher ages. Additionally, some examples seem to demonstrate that vigorous emphasis on classic pronatalist components of welfare-state measures can generate higher fertility. And findings that promotion of gender equality, well justified on grounds unrelated to fertility, amplifies the effectiveness of such measures, provide additional reassurance that effective recipes for achieving higher fertility are available when needed. But as multiple European and East–Asian examples indicate, complacency may be unwarranted. While modern industrial societies, especially if willing to adopt fairly liberal immigration policies, can certainly accommodate fertility levels that remain below replacement even by a non-trivial margin, the dominant completed fertility characterized by the choice of 2, 1, or no-child by women and couples can produce an average figure that over the longer-run yields rapid population decline and shifts in the age distribution with heretofore not encountered grave economic and social consequences. New approaches are needed that go beyond the present armamentarium of fertility-supporting policies. These include legislation that grants voting rights to heretofore disenfranchised citizens: children under the conventional voting age, with their right to be exercised by their parents or personal caregivers; concentration of economic support for parities three and higher; and reform of the state-managed pension system that reestablishes a direct link between mandated contributions of workers and the pensions received by their retired parents.

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Presented in Session 29: Optimal fertility, demographic dividend and policy challenges