The European family

Europe is confronted by an existential demographic challenge every bit as pressing as climate change. The UN predicts that, by 2050, EU member states will experience population decline. The impact is already evident in eastern and south-eastern Europe, where, according to Eurostat, 10 EU member countries recorded an absolute decline in population in 2018. The equivalent of small cities are disappearing every year.

A growing number of countries are responding to this demographic crisis, with a range of interventions and incentives. Hungary is an especially interesting example.

But here’s the thing. Mention Hungary and what Galbraith called the “Conventional Wisdom” reflexively defaults to “President Orban” — end of discussion.

This is foolish. It deflects us from the possibility that the Hungarian model has lessons and insights for other EU member countries and for the UK, where the Office of National Statistics (ONS) population projections make for very bleak reading.

The consequences of falling population — of low birth rates, rural decline and the emigration of young educated adults — are deeply negative for any economy. They include a contraction in the tax base and in the labour force. It also leads to a loss of intellectual capital, which in turn diminishes our capacity for future economic flourishing. That’s a very big deal. An aging population also increases dependency rates, which drags on the economic productivity of the young.

The Croatian EU Presidency has put tackling Europe’s population decline at the very top of its agenda. The Financial Times recently reported that “Croatia is asking the EU to weigh up a host of family-friendly policies . . . as it seeks ways of reversing dismal birth rates.”

Those are the magic words: “family-friendly policies”. Because much depends on how we regard child-bearing, and how we are “nudged”, politically or ideologically, towards a particular view of it.

That wise man, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, reminds us that it matters very much indeed how we regard child-rearing, and that not all families are the same in terms of their impact on the welfare and flourishing of children.

A political culture of Hungary regards childbearing, motherhood and parenting as intrinsically fulfilling and to be nurtured and supported by fiscal and labour market policies. This will give very different demographic outcomes to more “woke” societies, which caricature marriage, and the responsibilities and commitments that go with having children, as somehow limiting.

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Bazsó-Dombi Attila
Great analise!