Connect with us
"
"

Opinion

Want to increase birth rates? Try gender equality

Published

on

By Alanna Armitage and Tomas Sobotka

Many countries in Eastern Europe face what is often perceived as a population crisis. Highly skilled people of reproductive age are leaving their countries to look for better opportunities elsewhere. Among those who stay, birth rates are below two children per woman; in some countries, they are closer to one.

These trends have raised alarm among politicians and the general public. The fear is that outmigration and low birth rates will lead to smaller, older and weaker nations.

Are these fears justified? To some extent, yes. Rapid population decline and ageing can pose serious challenges, especially if countries, for economic or ideological reasons, can’t attract immigrants to compensate for demographic losses. In such cases, lower population numbers can indeed put strains on economies, social systems, and infrastructure in sparsely populated areas.

However, much of the unease around these demographic changes is rooted in outdated notions of nation and power. On today’s World Population Day it is important to emphasize that it is not population size that matters in contemporary societies. What matters is the human capital of a population – its education and health, productivity and innovative potential. Countries like Germany or Japan have had very low birth rates for decades, and have continued to thrive. Small countries like Switzerland or Norway have continuously punched above their weight.

What this tells us is that the fixation on numbers we sometimes see in the region, and on birth rates in particular, is unproductive. Most scientists agree that there is no optimal fertility rate, and that, in any case, raising birth rates is not an easy fix.

Studies show that traditional programmes providing parents some form of financial incentive for having more children generally only have a temporary effect. People might choose to have a baby earlier than planned to cash in the incentive, which initially drives up the number of births. But they won’t have a bigger family overall, so long-term birth rates remain largely unchanged. This is not surprising: even the most generous financial incentives will only cover a tiny fraction of the total costs of raising a child.

Besides, without changes to the overall environment, any potential gains would just mean adding more young people to those who already can’t find a decent job or can’t see a long-term future in their country and are moving elsewhere, taking public investments in their education with them.

A more promising path for the countries of Eastern Europe is to focus on one often-overlooked fact: most people in the region actually want two or more children. The reasons why they can’t realize their reproductive intentions are the key for finding solutions to the region’s population crisis.

Where young people can’t be confident about their country’s future and their own job prospects, having children is financially risky, especially given the weak social safety nets in the region. High youth unemployment, low salaries – especially for women – and the trend towards more unstable work arrangements don’t help.

Another major factor is lack of support for working women, who are still widely expected to take care of children and the household. Public childcare for small children below age three is woefully inadequate in Eastern Europe and work arrangements rigid, leaving many women forced to choose between children or career.

What all this means is that for any government to be successful in lifting birth rates close to the level of people’s fertility desires – and to provide alternatives to outmigration – it must create an environment in which young people are confident to plan their future and start a family.

This requires progress on good governance, making economies more competitive and matching individual skills with labour market demands. And it requires a set of specific policies responding to the needs of families, women, men and children.

UNFPA Moldova. Dan Guțu (2019)

There is broad consensus on what needs to be part of such a policy package: Quality, affordable childcare starting from an early age. Flexible and generously paid parental leave for both parents (with incentives for men to take what they are entitled to). Flexible work arrangements, and providing equal pay for women. Programmes to encourage men and women to equally share care and household work. And affordable housing as well as financial support for low-income families.

Countries like Sweden show that variations of this policy mix can work in sustaining higher birth rates. Estonia has gone further still in its radical redesign of parental leave policies, and has significantly expanded early childhood education. A few countries in Eastern Europe have also embarked on this journey, with support from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and its partners.

It is not going to be easy. Shifting scarce resources towards family policies is likely to spark resistance, as will the urgently needed transformation of traditional social norms and stereotypes about men’s and women’s roles in society.

Overcoming these roadblocks will require strong political leadership and readiness for change. But the potential benefits are massive – and go far beyond increasing birth rates. Because when young people have confidence in their future and women can fully participate in all spheres of society without having to give up childbearing, countries are likely to grow, not only in numbers, but in opportunity, stability and prosperity for generations to come.

Alanna Armitage is Director of the United Nations Population Fund Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Tomas Sobotka leads the research group on fertility and family at the Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Directoare executivă și șefă pe toate celea. Omul care face ca lucrurile să se întâmple, căpitana corabiei și geniu matematic nedescoperit - rezolvă orice problemă.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Opinion

Older people’s rights and dignity must be protected amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Published

on

By Alanna Armitage

Across Europe, from Spain to Serbia, care homes for older people have become hotspots of COVID-19 infections. According to the World Health Organization, residents of long-term care facilities account for up to half of coronavirus deaths in Europe.

Among all the heartbreaking statistics that tell the story of how the virus is devastating lives around the world, this figure sticks out to me. It shines light on an unimaginable tragedy unfolding right before our eyes – but drawing surprisingly little public attention.

Older people living in care facilities make up only a tiny fraction of the total population – barely 1%, for example in Germany, the country with Europe’s largest number of nursing home beds per capita. This gives a sense of how grotesquely over-represented care home residents are among the deaths caused by the virus.

Older people in general are badly affected by the pandemic. They are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and some 95% of deaths are among people aged 60 and older. This is one reason why Europe, the region with the world’s largest proportion of older people, is seeing the pandemic ravaging with such force within its borders. And older people aren’t just facing a health crisis: physical distancing (erroneously called social distancing) measures to contain the virus also have a disproportionate impact on their lives and livelihoods, as many are cut off from the services, support and caregivers they rely on.

Often neglected and out of sight, older people living in care homes are among the most vulnerable of all. We hear haunting stories of people dying alone, without having their loved ones around them and with sometimes only minimal care provided by overwhelmed and under-financed facilities.

The tragedies happening in nursing homes right now are just one, albeit extreme, expression of how we are failing older people more broadly. The pandemic has put this failure into stark relief, but it didn’t begin with COVID-19. As countries in Europe are ageing rapidly – one in four people already is 60 years or older – societies have been struggling to create conditions for the growing number of older people to be able to thrive, remaining in good health and active in their communities and public life.

Instead, many older people experience neglect, poverty, social exclusion and isolation – exacerbated now because of the pandemic. Perhaps even worse is the way public discourse tells them, more or less subtly and through myriads of cultural clues, that because of their age they are a burden, less valuable, even expendable.

It is my hope that this crisis, and the horrifying effects it has on many older people, will come to be a turning point for how we see and treat older people in society. At UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, we work hard with our partners in government and civil society not only to support older people during the pandemic. But also to ensure more broadly that their dignity and rights are protected and that they remain integrated and engaged in their communities.

Many countries are now looking at how the crisis can be turned into opportunity. There are four key steps governments can take to make this happen:

  1. Prioritise the protection of older people in response to COVID-19. This can include sending unequivocal public messages of support for the equal rights and dignity of older people and taking bold measures to demonstrate that public commitments go beyond lip service. Ensuring continuity of services, supporting caregivers, using digital technologies to reach people in isolation – a lot can be done to mitigate the effects of the crisis.
  2. Hear the voices of older people. As we are responding to this crisis, and developing policies for the future, we must listen to what older people have to say. Engaging with community representatives is vital for avoiding biases and being able to come up with solutions that respond to actual needs.
  3. Counter ageism in public discourse and practice. There must be no tolerance for the rampant age discrimination and negative stereotyping that has surfaced even more during this crisis. Promoting a counter-narrative centred on inter-generational solidarity and the agency and valuable contributions of older people will be key for shifting social norms and attitudes.
  4. Revisit legal and policy frameworks and budgets through an age lens. Now is the time to start looking beyond the crisis and review what needs to change in sectors like health, education, employment and social welfare so that countries are in a better position to cope with the effects of rapid demographic change while ensuring the rights and choices of an ageing population.

Let’s be clear: the death of so many older people during this crisis was not inevitable. It is the direct result of our failure – as societies, institutions and cultures – to assign equal importance and value to the lives and well-being of the older generation. We must learn from past mistakes and get serious about creating a society for all ages in which older people are recognized, and supported, as the important pillars of society that they are: as teachers and mentors, carers and volunteers, story-tellers and creators, conveyors of culture, and fighters for rights that we sometimes take for granted. In an ageing Europe, we simply cannot afford to exclude a quarter of the population with all their skills, talents and other contributions. Ensuring that older people are treated with the same rights and dignity as everyone else is not only a moral imperative, it’s a win-win for all, old and young alike.

Alanna Armitage is the Director of the Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Photo: UNFPA

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Latest News

Important11 hours ago

The state of Public Health Emergency was again prolonged in Moldova

The National Extraordinary Public Health Commission (NEPHC) decided, on July 10, that the state of Public Health Emergency must be prolonged again...

Society2 days ago

“Pobeda” – the last Moldovan kolkhoz

Copceac is a village situated near the Ukrainian border, being separated from the main territory of the Autonomous Territorial Unit...

Society3 days ago

Women from the left bank of the Dniester

The village of Doroțcaia is located on the eastern side of the Dniester River, near a border crossing point installed...

Politics5 days ago

Critical changes blocked in Moldovan politics – the Constitutional Court dictated the separation of powers

On July 7, the Constitutional Court (CC) of the Republic of Moldova issued a decision, according to which, the dissolution of the...

Reintegration1 week ago

Protecting public health or violating freedom of movement? Protests in Transnistria

On July 02, a protest has been registered in Ribnita (a city in the Transnistrian region). Dozens of city residents...

Society1 week ago

COVID-19 statistics: Moldova’s harmful figures that still can break the European records

In June, the COVID-19 pandemic advanced rapidly in the Republic of Moldova. The number of contaminated persons increased by 92%...

Politics2 weeks ago

The effect of Russia’s constitutional changes on the Transnistrian region

A nationwide referendum is held in the Russian Federation between June 25 and July 1 in order to amend the constitution...

Advertisement

Opinions

Advertisement

Trending