- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Falling birth rates continues to threaten prosperity

Fertility rates have been falling throughout Europe since the 1990s. Most birth rates are now below the necessary replacement levels — the number of children that need to be born to replace the adult populations. The steepest declines happened first in wealthy countries like Japan, Italy, Germany, and Spain, but many developing countries have also seen their fertility rates decline. Today, women in more than 60 countries are not having enough children to keep the population growing. This all means that our economies will continue to suffer in the long run.

At last month’s JUMP Forum Avivah Wittenberg Cox explained that in Germany, which has the lowest birth rates ever, working mothers are chastised and called “rabenmutter” or “crow mothers” because they leave their children with carers instead of looking after them. As Kate Connolly of the Guardian points out in her article Kinder, küche … Germany’s lowest birthrate yet blamed on dated policy, Germany ranks second from bottom in terms of children under 15 as a percentage of the overall population and has prompted government concern over whether Germany is doing enough to support families.

Elsewhere, it has often been the case that women who take time off to raise a family derail any future employment opportunities. In the Netherlands, full-time female participation in the workforce it seems is hampered by tax burdens on second earners, reflecting the withdrawal of social benefits that would help working mothers.

Sweden however has the highest percentage of women in paid employment at around 79 per cent and the birth rate is among the highest in Europe. And as Ms Wittenberg-Cox pointed out France has the highest participation rate of women in Europe as well as some of the highest birth rates. She defied anyone to state that birth rates were too low because women were making a choice between work and families. She warned governments to think again: “If you want your country to keep growing and have any future at all then you’d better help your women keep working.” You can see the interview with Ms Wittenberg-Cox at this year’s forum by clicking here.

There is some good news at least for self-employed mothers to be as Irene Janssen reports in her article Equal maternity rights for self-employed women across the EU!? Last week, the European Parliament voted on a proposal to update existing EU rules for self-employed workers, the idea being to give self-employed women the right to at least the national minimum paid maternity leave as laid down for female workers. This is good news for mothers in Belgium who would normally have to return to work 6 weeks after a child is born.

Perhaps if more men were to take over their share of the childrearing and be able to take up the parental leave without feeling stimatised for doing so, we could create a more egalitarian society where women would feel happier and more supported to have children, at least this is the belief of Les Femmes Prévoyantes Socialistes who have launched a campaign during June to encourage more men to take parental leave.