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UN Committee Addresses Alarming Fertility Decline


New York, United States – During the annual UN Commission on Population Development (CPD) the majority of discussion is on reducing birthrates. And yet, the United Nations reports that two-thirds of people live in countries with a fertility rate below 2.1 births per woman. Population decline and ageing, which will likely impact all regions of the world at the mid-century mark, bring significant deleterious economic and social ramifications.


The NGO Committee on the Family, with UPF’s co-sponsorship, organized the Research Forum on Family Policy and Population to present member states with current research on demographics and pro-natal policies. This was held on May 1, 2024 and sponsored by the Mission of Hungary to the United Nations in New York.


Hungarian Deputy Amb. Anita Kokai explained that her country’s fertility rate has seriously declined to 1.25. The shrinking number of working-age citizens cannot sustain an economy productive enough to provide for the expanding aging population. 


Hungary offers couples many generous benefits, such as forgivable loans for homebuyers and increasing tax breaks as their family grows. Women who stop working to care for children are guaranteed their jobs if they want to return. Childcare and maternal and parental leave are also plenteous. Hungary has invested a hefty, almost 5% of its GDP in pro-natal policies. These policies have increased the rate of female employment and gender employment parity.


Ms. Kokai reported that this huge investment has raised their fertility rate to 1.65, and increased their marriage rate. These results are significant and encouraging. 


Mr. Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a PhD candidate in sociology at McGill University, noted that women around the world are having fewer children than they desire. He said this fertility gap seems to be largest for highly educated women in developed countries. The average woman in the United States believes she would be happiest having about 2.5 children, but the birthrate now is 1.6.


He explained that “greater economic freedom empowers women to choose work that better fits their family life.” Ideally, they would have stable jobs, adequate pay, family-friendly policies, and good benefits, supported by limited governmental business regulation and non-prohibitive taxes. Greater economic freedom empowers parents to match their work life with their desire for children, resulting in higher fertility.  


Dr. Daisoon Kim, assistant professor of economics at North Carolina State University, presented his research on “Parental Leave, Fertility, and Labor Supply,” conducted in South Korea. He noted that generally longer unpaid parental leave can raise both fertility and the female labor supply. However, these results are decreased by South Korean cultural attitudes toward women’s employment and an imbalance in gender childcare responsibilities.  


He explained that although social norms are changing, there remains a strong sentiment that mothers should be at home caring for their children rather than working. In contrast to Hungarian policies, Korean companies give no guarantee that women will have their jobs after taking parental leave. This makes working women more hesitant to have children. 

 

Mr. Kim added that increased cash payments in South Korea, an extremely competitive country with regard to educational achievement, does not necessarily bring the expected results. According to Mr. Kim, parents may use cash payments to bolster the educational attainment of their one child instead of having another child.


Ms. Rachel Fung, a PhD candidate in economics at Princeton University, presented her research on welfare reform and fertility in the United States. Welfare reform that reduced cash payments for having children in the 1990’s resulted in fertility decline in the lower socio-economic group, who relied most on the payments. She reported that this welfare reform “may explain over 24% of the decline in overall US fertility between 1992 and 2000.” Those who relied less on the payments did not show a significant birth decline.


Ms. Fung noted that when women anticipated a decrease in cash payments, due to a change of  administration, for example, fertility did not increase. This is because women in lower socioeconomic brackets rely on this assistance to provide for their children over the long term. When benefits appear to be temporary, women are less likely to have more children. According to Ms. Fung, cash payments for having children can be effective in increasing fertility, but only when significant and perceived as reliable for as long as they will be raising children.


The object of this pilot program was to present current research analyses which could be useful for UN member states’ pro-natal policy development.

 

By Lynn R. Walsh, Director, UPF Office of the Family May 1, 2024 
 

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