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Finnish politician tells women ‘be patriotic, have more babies’

Finland is suffering a dire demographic fate. Bloomberg reported that Finland, a first-rate place in which to be a mother, has nevertheless registered the lowest number of newborns in nearly 150 years.

Published: September 21, 2017, 12:03 pm

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    Helsinki

    Inviting immigrants is not a political option, as Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s center-right government relies on the support of nationalist lawmakers, and neighbour Norway has just closed its door to more quota migrants.

    Even the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Antti Rinne, in August urged women to fulfill their patriotic duty and have more babies.

    As birth rates crash to historic lows, there’s little to suggest a reversal in the trend. The country’s birth rate has been falling steadily since the start of the decade.

    Demographics concerns across the developed world, are nothing new. But they are particularly expensive for countries with a generous welfare state, since they endanger their financial future. Finland has made improvements to parental leave as well as the benefits system recently in the hope to stimulate births. The reforms are expected to come into force in 2019.

    Heidi Schauman, called the projected population figures “frightening.” The Aktia Bank chief economist said in a telephone interview from Helsinki “They show how fast our society is changing, and we don’t have solutions ready to stop the development.”

    Bloomberg noted that the low birth rates were surprising, given the efforts made by the state to support parenthood, illustrated by Finland’s famous baby-boxes. Introduced in 1937, containers full of baby clothes and care products were delivered to expectant mothers. The added design feature was that the cardboard boxes even doubled up as a makeshift cot.

    The generous maternity packages funded by the state, were prompted by concerns over high infant mortality rates in low-income families, although the baby starter kits were eventually extended to all families.

    Offering generous parental leave and one of the best education system in the world doesn’t seem to be producing enough off-spring either. “We have a large public sector and the system needs taxpayers in the future, ” Schauman said. Finland needs two babies per woman, but the rate was projected at only 1,57 in 2016, according to Statistics Finland.

    According to the OECD, Finland already has the lowest ratio of youths to the working-age population of all the Nordic countries and it has the highest rate of old age dependency, projected to get worse. The European Commission has blamed demographic factors on Finland’s limited economic growth potential, which is estimated to peak at 1,9 percent in 2035 and shrink to 1,5 percent between 2050 and 2060.

    According to Schauman, “the discussion has revolved around gender equality and the employment of women, with the issue of natality sent to the background”. What Finland actually needs instead is a political program that treasures the family and increases the value of parenthood, the economist argued.

    For years, the Japanese government had tried to encourage its citizenry to procreate in order to combat the collapsing demographics the nation faces, trying guilt and punishment to no avail.

    karin@praag.org

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