young globe trotter

As reported, the latest demographic statistics are not quite what the government wanted. In the first two months of this year, the number of people who were born and died decreased and increased respectively, compared to the same period last year. Back in 2016, the government was proud to announce that the country’s fertility rate was at 1.5. This means that on average, a couple had 1.5 children. The government’s long-term goal is to bring this figure up to 2.

However, it is not easy to halt the population drop:

  • Population growth rates are also affected by death rates and migration.
  • After the communist system’s collapse, it was expected that the fertility rate would drop due to the big changes that came with it.
  • The Hungarian youth is uncertain about their future.
  • Hungarian parents are discouraging their children from having children themselves.

The issue was discussed during an Eötvös Group meeting which focused on fertility rates and family sociology. Two professors held presentations: demographer Zsolt Spéder and sociologist Beata Dávid.

Spéder summarised KSH’s latest demographic findings and shared his thoughts. He believes that Hungary has bigger demographic problems than 25 years ago.

The fertility rate was lowest in 1999 and 2011 when it dropped to 1.23. Spéder believes that the biggest reason for this is Hungarian couples postponing childbearing. After the fall of the communist system, people adopted different lifestyles, and education proliferated in society – people became much more career-orientated, pushing family life into the background.

Since the change of regime, couples are having children minimum 5 years later in their lives than previously; in the early 90s, women had their first child at 22, while today, this number is pushed up to 27.

According to Spéder, former communist countries are at a critical point in their fertility pathways. They will either follow pathways similar to France and Scandinavia where the fertility rate is at 2. However, if the fertility rate stays below 2, these countries may end up having a demographic composition similar to Germany and Southern Europe.

However, in Hungary, children are not only born later, but the fertility rate is also lower; so, while in the 1990s, 92% of 40-year-old women had children, this statistic dropped to 84% in 2016. Even though parents who have 2 children are more likely to have a third one, many people only choose to have one or none at all.

If people delay their decision to have children too late, they increase the risk of having no children at all. They may only have a couple of years to create the necessary environment for childbearing; for example, a partner, a family home and employment.

If someone chooses to have a child within 3 years, they are unlikely to be able to create the right environment to do so. While in the Netherlands, it is possible in 80% of the time, in Hungary, it is only in 30-40% of cases.  Therefore, Hungarian couples delay childbearing even further, thus reducing the likelihood of having a child at all.

“Even if the will to have children increases, it is not possible to balance it against growing childbearing age and a reduced fertile population,” said Spéder.

Afraid of the unknown

In a study involving families from 1990 to 2012, Dávid found that that younger generations have fewer children or are more likely to have no children at all. When Dávid investigated the statistics, she was not surprised:

  • Two-thirds of 23-24-year-old were still living in the parental home.
  • Many of them were never in a relationship.

If there are no couples, there will not be any children either. Unlike in the 1990 study, in 2012, there were couples who did not want any children at all.

A lot of young people do not want to move away from home, not only because they have nowhere to go. “Parents try to do everything at home to create the best environment in order not to chase their children away. However, this prevents them from turning into fully responsible independent adults,” Dávid explained.

According to Dávid’s study, confidence levels between the 1990 and 2012 generations did not differ. However, what they prioritised did change.  For the 1990 generation, a stable workplace was more important. On the other hand, family ties and friendships gained more importance for the 2012 generation. As we reported, house prices, especially in Budapest, have hit record levels. Young people today find it much more difficult to navigate the housing market due to financial constraints.

In addition, the 2012 generation prioritises their lifestyle, their health, diet and their free time. It could be argued that society has become much more self-centred and individualistic, in which childbearing has a decreased importance.

Planning also reduces the likelihood of having children. Multiple couples in the 1990 generation did not anticipate the arrival of their first child. This was not the case for any of the couples with children in the 2012 generation.

Government intervention?

Spéder affirmed that family support programmes are only one aspect of encouraging people to have children – people are also influenced by the economy and local institutional networks. Do they have the supporting services in their neighbourhood to raise children?

Spéder highlighted that some political moves did have a positive impact on fertility. For example, tax breaks encouraged some families to have a third child. He believes that the “baby loan” policy will encourage people to have children at a younger age. “If the first child is not born early enough in a person’s life, they might not have any children at all,” Spéder said.

We also reported that the government using a couple from a well-known meme to encourage families to have children.


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