Demographic Decline – and What We Can Learn from Hungary about Natalism and

“God, they say almost nothing here (except immigration),” replied a friend in Budapest when asked about the Hungarian government’s family policy, which aims to promote childbearing and avoid demographic decline.

In Britain, on the other hand, we largely avoid these issues, thanks to strict self-censorship by mainstream conservatives who don’t want to be accused of supporting the current governments of Hungary and Poland, or of ordering women to do more. child

Fear of censure dampens debate on both demographic trends and what, if anything, can be learned from policies introduced by Hungary, Poland and many other countries in an effort to raise birth rates.

Last summer, demographer Paul Morland of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, wrote a paper The Sunday Times In which he noted that the number of children in the UK was falling, and went on:

“The labor shortage is already a problem in this country, the demographic winter is just beginning.

“We need a national demographic strategy, on immigration – especially after Brexit, when we should have more control over who enters our country – and to encourage families to have more children and to have them when they are younger.”

In Morland’s view, “We’re heading for a demographic emergency, and if informed people can’t discuss these issues, then the field is left to lunatics and bigots.”

“Should we tax the childless?” In his article on the title, he acknowledged that taxing the childless would be considered “unfair”, but noted that “we all depend on a next generation out there”, and urged that we need to create a “childbirth culture”.

Her moderation of tone did not save her from a stream of abuse in the comments section after her post: “pathetic”, “ridiculous”, “deeply offensive to someone who does not have children”, “uncomfortable and unacceptable”, “offensive”, “insane”.

He was not just condemned guardian but enjoyingwhich detects “an uneasy whiff of blackshirt” in Morland’s discussion of “home-grown” children.

Such unmeasured condemnation means that natalism is indeed liable to be left in the hands of cranks and bigots, and the experience of countries like Hungary and Poland has not been examined.

The United Nations has suggested that Hungary’s population could fall from 9.7 million in 2019 to under 6.9 million by 2100, a decline of 29 percent, while Poland could fall from 38 million to 23 million by the end of the century, a decline of 40 percent.

Such predictions are, of course, almost always wrong, but the actual statistics are also quite alarming. Hungary’s population peaked at 10.7 million in 1980 and has fallen by a million since then.

The fertility rate in Hungary, which stood at 2.17 in 1977, had declined to 1.23 by 2011. For a population to remain stable, a rate of about 2.1 percent is needed, before the effect of emigration is taken into account, sufficient in both Hungary and Poland.

Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary from 1998-2002 and again from 2010 (profiled here on Konhom), is a nationalist who portrays himself as a defender of Christian civilization and an opponent of immigration (except for ethnic Hungarians) and Muslim refugees in particular. , which he called “a Muslim invading force” during the 2015 crisis.

With characteristic boldness, he tried to turn Hungary’s population decline into an opportunity, creating a benefit system that would encourage couples to have children and vote for his party, Fidesz.

A system was created that exempted any woman with four children from income tax for life. Every married couple where the wife is between 18 and 40 years of age is eligible for a general purpose loan from the government, the repayment of which is deferred for a few years after the birth of the first and second child and canceled after the birth of the third child. .

Home loan and mortgage relief can be availed by families who want to have three or more children. A family with at least three children can get help with the cost of buying a large car.

Orbán maintains his grip on power by subjugating the media, rigging the electoral system, undermining the judiciary, dominating universities, paying off oligarchs and receiving large sums of money from the European Union, while at the same time abusing those institutions.

But his gifts as a campaigner are particularly evident in his family policy, where he claims rapid success, as in this official report of his speech at the Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit in September 2021:

“He said that if the new special Hungarian family policy had not been introduced and everything had remained the same, 120,000 fewer children would have been born in ten years. He added that the number of marriages has almost doubled since 2010 and the number of abortions in Hungary has fallen by 41 percent…

“He also drew attention to the fact that Hungarians are defending themselves because the Western left continues to attack: they attack the traditional family model by relativizing the concept of family. According to him, the LGBTQ lobby and gender propaganda are used as a means of this attack.

“‘They target our children, and so we have to protect ourselves,’ he stressed, pointing out that Hungary has a constitutional family and child protection system that ‘automatically activates itself when it sees families in danger’.”

Hungarian families are in grave danger from Brussels and the Western left! There is a strong rallying cry here, and Orbán has always understood how to profit from provocation, rebelling on behalf of ordinary Hungarians against a mighty imperial power, even as he is willing to get suspiciously close to Putin.

But is Orbán’s population policy actually working? Hungary’s fertility rate has risen to about 1.5, a far cry from the 2.1 needed to remain stable.

And as Morland points out at ConHome, this increase may be due to the “tempo” effect, which occurs when women start having children at age 32 instead of age 27, resulting in a few years of declining fertility rates, which then rebound. comes

Morland observes that both France and Sweden, which spend heavily to encourage women to have children, have fertility rates of around 1.85, well ahead of Hungary. Culture matters, and countries where it is relatively easy for women to move in and out of work, and where men are willing to take on domestic responsibilities, tend to have more children than those where it is difficult to return to work and men do not. help at home

State action in this case can have the most terrifying unintended consequences: one thinks of China’s one-child policy.

After Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu banned abortion and contraception in 1967, the fertility rate rose from 1.9 to 3.7 percent and many children were sent to state-run orphanages that became a byword for fear.

No two countries are the same, but Poland, like Hungary, has a fertility rate of around 1.5, and a right-wing populist government sees advantages, as the Center for European Research points out, in embracing Brussels:

“On their behalf, Law and Justice Leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki And their junior coalition partner, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, is wary of what he sees as the EU’s liberal agenda and is pushing for a national-conservative strategy to protect Poland from union aggression in national affairs. They are also staunchly anti-Putin.”

Poland will hold elections this fall, which the ruling coalition hopes to win by continuing its pro-family policies.

“Working families” was a phrase Gordon Brown liked to use, but could not be embodied in individual policy. In Poland, families will be offered more generous housing subsidies and childcare.

How can Hungary and Poland afford such subsidies? It’s not clear that they can.

But the desire for greater solidarity is, according to Brown, widely shared. “British jobs for British workers” was another phrase he used, not knowing what to make of it.

When I lived in Berlin in the 1990s, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many East Germans looked back with pride and regret at the childcare system that existed under communism.

Law and Justice in Poland came into power in 2015 promising to pay parents a monthly allowance for the first child, or for the first child if you are very poor. The money could actually be spent on foreign holidays or drinking, but how nice it was to be trusted by the state with real money instead of putting up with second-rate services run by bureaucrats.

Here was a system that didn’t just appeal to conservatives: people of a leftist disposition might find it attractive, because it freed one from the demands of a free-market economy, perhaps by some alternative means. , and one cannot afford to bear and care for children from one’s own resources.

The great religions say, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Our own, more neurotic culture says don’t have children unless you can provide a suitable home for them, which many young couples find impossible in the current state of the housing market.

But if we have no children, then who will take care of us when we grow old? This question is still more acute in Hungary and Poland than in the UK, but we should at least be able to talk about it.