By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Encouraging large families entails deliberate, sensible policies

May 31, 2019 - 17:24

TEHRAN — While governmental bodies are beset by major, growing worries regarding low birth rate in the country, it is important to formulate and adopt deliberate and sensible policies to address the issue.

Policies enforced during 1370s (1991-2000) aiming at population decline decreased replacement level fertility to lower than 2.1, and despite reconsidering the policies to encourage population growth the rate has not reached satisfying levels yet.

Replacement level fertility is the total fertility rate—the average number of children born per woman—at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next, without migration. This rate is roughly 2.1 children per woman for most countries, although it may modestly vary with mortality rates.

Population growth will lead to economic development in the country, while currently the country’s population is rapidly aging.

Hassan Salmannejad, head of the secretariat national council of the elderly said in late December 2018 that older person’s population will grow three-fold within the next 30 years in Iran, as some 700,000 people are added to the aging population of over 60 each year. He also added that the population of senior citizens currently exceeds 8 million in Iran and the annual growth rate of the country's aging population is about 3.8 percent.

Hamed Barakati, an official with Ministry of Health, has also said that over the years 1395-1396 (March 2016-March 2018) the number of births decreased by 40,000.

Additionally between the Iranian calendar years of 1376 (March 1996-March 1997) to 1395 (March 2016-March 2017), the average age at first marriage for females increased from 19.8 to 23.0 and for males increased from 23.6 to 27.4, so that on average each couple has 11 years to have children.

Normally couples wait 5.2 years to have their first child and this is while women are most fertile and have the best chance of getting pregnant in their 20s and some studies suggest that it is fine is to have a last baby before age 35.

Furthermore, according to Ardeshir Garavand and official with Interior Ministry a number of 105,000 girls, mostly residing in Tehran and the central cities of Iran, are confirmed bachelorettes, and there are 36,000 confirmed bachelors in the country. The active age of marriage is 39 and women older than 39 are considered confirmed bachelorettes.

What are countries doing about it?

Today, the world’s lowest fertility rates are scattered across Europe and East Asia, in countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Greece, Spain, and Italy.

Possibly adverse economic conditions have left many adults believing they’re unable to afford children. Meanwhile, the drastic transformation in women’s social role and the structure of the family has accelerated the decline. The increase in female educational attainment, the massive entry of women into the labor force, and the rising average age of marriage and childbirth have all played a role in depressing fertility over the past few decades.

According to the Forbes many governments have taken various approaches by offering direct financial incentives to families with children, such as tax breaks, housing assistance, or discounts on public services.

South Korea, Singapore, France, Australia, Canada, Russia, and Poland have all offered “baby bonuses” per child. Other market-oriented policies mitigate work-family conflicts in the form of assistance with child care or generous family leave policies. The Czech Republic offers up to 70% of one’s salary during maternity leave. Berlin recently announced that all of its child care centers will be free.

Policies to reverse population decline: Chinese style

In China, 30-plus years of a strict one-child policy has resulted in an aging population with too few young people, therefore, in an attempt to boost fertility, China adopted a two-child policy in 2015. However, this measure failed to achieve immediate results as the government wished. Statistics showed that China’s birth rate dropped despite the two-child policy, from 17.86 million births in 2016 to 17.23 million in 2017.

In an article published in mid-August 2018 in The Diplomat, some Chinese specialists proposed that in order to increase china’s declining fertility the government can set up a national fund.

They suggest that the government can stipulate that all citizens under the age of 40, regardless of gender, should transfer a certain percentage of their salary each year to the birth fund. Those families who are to give birth a second time or more can apply for subsidy from the fund, so as to compensate for the short-term income loss caused by the labor. As for other citizens who fail to give birth a second time, they won’t be allowed to withdraw their money from the fund until retirement.

They also argue that that “the government can not only establish a birth fund to encourage birth, but should tax those DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) families for social support.”

However, the proposals triggered a large wave of criticism and sarcasm online.

Japan: Nothing can detract from the power of financial incentives

According to an article published in January 2018 in World Economic Forum Japan's nationwide fertility rate hit its highest level in 21 years. While the country is struggling with a looing demographic crisis the country’s health ministry has announced that the total fertility rate increased to 1.46 in 2015, slightly up from the previous rate of 1.42 in 2014.

The spike in fertility is correlated with cash incentives for new parents.

For one, in a town called Ama on the island of Nakanoshima, which has a "leveraged scheme to incentivize mating": parents get 100,000 yen (about $940) for the first baby, but get 1 million yen (about $9,400) for the fourth kid. The town's fertility rate bumped up to 1.80 from 1.66 between 2014 and 2015.

Russia offers cash incentives to boost birth rate

The Russian government has launched a new set of initiatives designed to boost the country’s birth rate, offering cash rewards and mortgage subsidies to poor families in a bid to reverse a steady population decline, Global Government Forum reported in March 2018.

For families having their second or subsequent child, the government has announced the extension of its Maternity Capital programme.

In addition, poor families with more than one child will be eligible for subsidies against their mortgage payments. Second children will entitle their parents to subsidies lasting three years, and third children for five years.

So how to spur a baby boom in the country?

National culture plays an important role in deciding the kinds of incentives.

While many young couples in Iran are tenants and face increasing rents every year, proposing generous housing assistance for families with more than one children can be a great persuasion.

Moreover, offering longer maternity leaves, childcare services as wells as job security for women who opt for having more than one child can be another incentive.

Unfortunately paternity leave in Iran is pretty short (three days) and new mums feel so much frustrated left alone with the baby for the first few months. Adopting policies to extend paternity leave would definitely help young couples feel supported.

Now the question is what kinds incentives the government has suggested so far to encourage demographic changes?


Leave a Comment

7 + 11 =