Nearly all over the globe, whether the country is democratic or totalitarian, wealthy or poor, most are grappling with one of the greatest challenges of this century. It is the problem of rapidly declining population. A solution has to be found because some nations are standing on the verge of the inability to continue functioning as a country. Japan, South Korea, and Bulgaria are examples of this, and their populations may well be extinguished before the end of this century.
Many countries are facing this challenge with various innovative policies. For example: China, Russia, Hungary, and other countries are restricting abortion.
Russia, which had the highest abortion rate in the world, is trying to stop the continued loss of its future citizens. It has established pregnancy help centres in major cities and towns to counsel women against procuring an abortion, and offers generous financial support during the pregnancy and afterwards, along with other kinds of support.
Hungary has done more than any other country tracked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD – 52 countries shaping economic policies), to stop the decline in population. As a result of its efforts, Hungary has had the second highest increase in its fertility rate from 2010 to 2020. This was accomplished by enacting numerous pro-family policies, such as eliminating income tax for life if a woman has had 4 children, and providing housing at low interest rates (3%) for families with 3 or more children.
China, whose population is in sharp decline because of its one-child policy, is now panicking and trying to encourage families to have more children (at least 3 or more) by providing free IVF (in vitro fertilization) to married or single women. In some provinces, families who have a third child or more, receive a total cash allowance for each child of approximately USD $2,800 – $4,000 until the child reaches 3 years of age. They are also provided easier access to kindergarten, extended parental leave, and relaxed housing purchase rules for families with multiple children.
Some countries have seen positive results in increased fertility, from 2010 to 2020. These include Latvia, whose fertility rate increased by 28%, ahead of Russia (17%), the Czech Republic (14%), and Lithuania (13%). The other countries in Eastern Europe that have also had some increase in fertility rates are Romania, Slovenia, and Bulgaria. Only two, non-Eastern European countries are experiencing a rising fertility rate; they are Germany and Malta. All remaining European nations have experienced a drop in fertility from 2010 to 2020, with the sharpest declines occurring in Finland (27%), Ireland (22%), and Sweden (16%).
In these three countries, pro-family policies have not been sufficient to reach a replacement level birth rate. This has given rise to questions about the role of the family in shaping the optimism of a nation’s population with regard to having children. This questioning is justified when taking into account the high fertility rate that is occurring in Israel.
Israel is the one country that has not experienced a decline in population, even though it has experienced similar problems as other developed nations, such as inflation and housing shortages. In addition, Israel is on constant alert over warfare with Palestine. Israeli women work at almost the same rate as they do in Canada, with 59% workforce participation compared with 61% in Canada. Mothers in Israel, however, get far less time off when they have babies – about 3 months – compared to 18 months for Canadian mothers. Nevertheless, their fertility rate is the highest in the OECD at 2.9 compared to Canada’s fertility rate of only 1.5. Israel’s fertility rate is more closely aligned with its Middle Eastern neighbours – Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Israel has the highest birth rate among developed countries with advanced economies and educated workforces.
This high birth rate cannot be explained simply by the presence of Orthodox Jews who have large families, as only 13% of Israel’s population is Orthodox, with the majority of the population being secular. In addition, Israel is the only country in the world where highly educated, professional women have babies at the same rate as other women in the country.
The secret to Israel’s fertility rate appears to be cultural.
The family is at the absolute centre of Israeli life. Marriage and having children is the highest cultural value. Not being married and not having children is regarded as a tragedy in Israel. Children are seen as a blessing instead of a burden.
This cultural trait is no longer present in Canada and other Western countries, where money is given priority over marriage. A large majority of Canadians prioritize work and money over other life goals, including marriage and parenthood. Daughters are encouraged to obtain a university degree, seek influential professional status with excellent pay, with marriage and parenthood treated as basically unimportant. A delayed marriage means that a woman’s fertility rate is decreased, making conceiving a child difficult. Marriage is seen as a “capstone” to a successful adult life that comes only after individuals have achieved a measure of educational and economic success. For some, this “capstone” model leads to a rejection of marriage altogether, regarded as out of reach because of perceived economic and emotional requirements. Also to many, career and income have a higher value as a source of life satisfaction. They believe marriage and family compete with success. In addition, many regard children as a burden, not a blessing. This apparently comes from a misjudged sense of self, rooted in hedonism. Progressives in society tell us that we should get what we want, when we want it, and that all else, including marriage and children, should be disregarded. This phenomenon is known as the fertility trap. A Pew research study revealed that 56% of childless adults under 50 years of age, surveyed between 2018-2021, said that they “just don’t want to have children”, in short, they enjoy the freedom of remaining childless and want to keep it that way. There are, of course, medical reasons for remaining childless, and “circumstance”, such as not finding a suitable partner. Those, however, who deliberately chose not to have children, believing they will experience a more fulfilling and rewarding life without children, should be aware of a large body of research that shows that money and career are not the keys to happiness. In fact, the main predictor of overall life satisfaction is marriage and the social ties found within families and friendships.
Until Canadians come to grips with this reality, we will continue to experience a morbidly low fertility rate, with an unhappy population.