Can government incentives reverse falling birth rates? | Deseret News National
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Can government incentives reverse falling birth rates?

To prevent economic stagnation, some countries with a low birth rate are offering government incentives to encourage women to have more children.

Countries generally need a birth rate of 2.1 children per women to maintain a stable population. The birth rate in the United States was 1.86 in 2013, the lowest it's been since 1986, according to the Washington Times.

Other countries such as Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and France also have birth rates below the so-called "replacement rate" and have programs set up to try and counteract the negative economic effects of a falling population.

In Japan, which has a birth rate of 1.41, the government allotted the equivalent of $29.3 million to set up programs that would encourage young singles to date and get married. International Business Times reported that "local officials arrange 'konkatsu' parties where singles can meet and mingle."

If the birth rate doesn't increase, warns Chuo University sociology professor Masahiro Yamada, the working force won't be able to support the retirees, and the social security program might crumble.

According to the Washington Times, an emphasis on professional life over starting family and the cost of raising children are the main factors behind the birth rate decrease.

To combat the high cost of having children, the Russian government gives direct cash incentives if women have more children. The Moscow Times reported that every family receives about 12,500 in U.S. dollars to have or adopt a second child, a program that has been in place since 2006. Since then, Russia's birth rate has increased, and in 2013 the country saw the number of births surpass the number of deaths for the first time in over 20 years.

However, the Russian birth rate remains low at 1.7 births per woman, and it will be difficult to maintain growth as the population ages, Forbes says.

The countries in the European Union offer a variety of incentives, including birth starter kits to assist new parents in Finland, cheap childcare centers and liberal parental leave in France and a year of paid maternity leave in Germany.

The United States doesn't offer many incentives to have children beyond a tax break, and some experts believe that more is needed. According to The Week, women want to have more children than they are, but are held back because of costs.

A smaller population isn't a problem in and of itself, according to a Deseret News article. The problem comes when the rising generation is too small to support the economy established by the previous generation.

"Low fertility rates are associated with diminished economic growth," The Week reported. "Fewer kids mean fewer tax-paying workers to support public pension programs. An older society, noted the late Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker, is less dynamic, creative and entrepreneurial."

There isn't one easy solution, but there are ways to make it easier to raise more children. Jonathan Last, the author of "What to Expect When No One's Expecting," suggested several ways the government could make the country more large-family friendly in an essay in the Wall Street Journal. These included larger tax breaks per child and exempting parents from paying into Social Security while they have children under 18.

"The government cannot persuade Americans to have children they do not want, but it can help them to have the children they do want," wrote Last.

Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.

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