Ending the Myth of the female Fault for the Demographic Change

The EU member state Hungary serves as an example for the so called demographic transition. Fortunately, Hungarian women have good chances of getting quality education and building their careers. In the meantime, however, the Hungarian population shrunk by about 2% over the last decade and the birth rates are still decreasing. Some voices blame the women for this development, demanding they have to abstain from a career in order to fight the demographic decrease. In this context, the Hungarian government is about to draft new family support measures with the admitted goal of convincing women of childbearing age to have more children, rather than spending their youth at work. “The Hungarian messaging on this topic is really unfortunate, if not insulting”, Diversity expert Michael Stuber comments the move, “and it will probably have the reverse effect which Italy and Germany already experience”.

The new Hungarian family initiatives will include incentives that are partly mostly already available in other EU countries and will probably become effective in 2014; they comprise an expansion of family tax benefits, mothers entitlement to maternity pay and special deductions of student loans if women bear children. Those laws and the underlying reasoning are based on the societal paradigm of a female responsibility for raising the children. But are women solely responsible, even if they give birth to the children? OECD statistics prove that the statistical relation between those two figures has dramatically changed since the 80ies. In 1980 there was a clear negative correlation between female employment and fertility rates. In 2010, apart from the general increase in female employment, OECD countries with higher rates of female employment also had relatively high fertility rates. Substantial cross-country differences occur: Combining childrearing and being in employment is most difficult in the Eastern European and Mediterranean countries, while it seems mostly compatible in Australia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Hence a high female workforce share and sufficient birth rates cannot be presented as conflicting targets. Different paradigms and different political measures make the real difference. The French and Swedish societies for instance have been seeing working mothers as a natural norm for a long time. French or Swedish women do not see a sense nor need in neglecting their professional ambitions while raising children. Moreover, they are supported by better childcare than in most other countries and take the opportunity of maternity leaves. In a nutshell, the demographic transition is certainly not the women’s fault while it has a strong linkage to legal frameworks. Women should therefore be strongly supported by governmental and corporate programmes to pursue both objectives. Gender balance is another key word pointing to men who should assume their responsibility as an equal partner on the parental team. “Reality shows that more children are born when people are able to live the life they want,” Michael Stuber explains, “This can be seen from hard data and from anecdotal information on high birth rates in hip urban neighbourhoods or post the football championship in Germany”. Feeling good encourages people to have families – making them feel guilty will always discourage them.