C: Jonathan Borba / Unsplash

Baby drought fears prompt introduction of pro-family incentives in Iran

Iran has enacted new legislation aimed at encouraging more births. Iran’s new “Law on Family and Youth Support” is part of a plan to tackle the country’s pressing demographic crisis. Incentives include everything from 9 months’ fully paid maternity leave for new mothers, to housing loans aimed at encouraging young couples to get married.

The country is now scrambling to deal with having one of the lowest birth rates in the entire world, and is facing an imminent baby drought. Some of the measures in the new legislation include:

  • Medical services for pregnant women
  • Services for working women
  • Livelihood support for families
  • Discounts for families with three or more children
  • 9 months’ maternity leave on full pay 
  • Special housing loans for young couples to encourage young people to get married
  • Educational opportunities for student mothers
  • Health insurance for infertile couples
  • Increasing the number of fertility clinics
  • Health and nutrition support packages
  • Promotions for employees with three to five children
  • Free infertility treatment
  • A 20% discount for tutoring for school children
  • Free quality natural childbirth in state-run hospitals

In Ireland and in the UK, the drastic initiatives heralded in by the Iranian government have not achieved any media coverage worth talking about. Yet, the dramatic new policies should be talked about. Why? Because Ireland is facing an almost identical crisis, a baby bust  – and by stark contrast, very little is being done about it. 

Ireland’s birth rate: An astonishing decline 

Ireland’s birth rate has continued on a downward spiral for decades. It is a trend that parallels elsewhere. In summer 2020, the medical journal, The Lancet, issued a stark warning that the world was facing an unprecedented crisis and a population crash which scientists say will require a re-organisation of societies.

One alarming study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, published in the Lancet, forecasted that 23 countries will see their populations shrink by more than 50% including Spain, Italy and Japan – with massive negative knock-on effects for economic growth, jobs and the ability of societies to support healthcare and welfare systems. 

Researchers also reported that the world’s fertility rate has plummeted – having already nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017, it projected a further fall to below 1.7. This, of course, can only create enormous social change that should make us ask questions about the future – for instance, who will look after the elderly? Who will pay tax in a massively aged world? Who will foot the bill for healthcare for the elderly? At what age will people be able to retire – because it won’t be 65!

The problem only now receiving cursory attention in Ireland – a country where legal protection for unborn children was enshrined in the constitution up until 2018 – but the time to start grappling with it is now. With economists and demographers raising the alarm, the crisis is hurtling towards us at speed, yet politicians and policymakers continue to refuse to take any effective action. Nobody in power is venturing to ask why fewer and fewer children are being born year on year.

As reported by Gript, in 2007 Ireland boasted the highest birth rate in the European Union. Women in Ireland had an average of 2.05 children that year, compared to 1.98 in France and 1.92 in Britain

But that figure has now been slashed. Ireland has now found its way into the red zone, with the latest stats showing we are now witnessing a faster fall in birth rates than France or Britain. In the most recent figures, we suffered an even sharper fall in births than Iran. Our forecasted birth rate of 1.5 matches that of Iran, a nation clearly in crisis. Abortion is a factor, but so is cultural and social change and a lack of pro-family policy in every area including housing. 

In both Ireland and Iran, birth rates are far below replacement levels and a turning point is fast approaching when the number of elderly people will rise and the number of able-bodied workers will fall. Some nations have done more than others to meet this unavoidable crunch-time head on, with China finally scrapping its inhumane one-child policy, whilst Singapore is offering Covid baby bonuses. Iran, however, has gone significantly further and incentives range from educational opportunities for single mothers to discounts for families with three or more children.

It is also notable that Iran’s new law drastically restricts access to abortion. Meanwhile in Ireland, the response to our own population crisis seems to be to blindly push for more abortion, with the majority of our political leaders continuing to see the introduction of a broad-based abortion regime as some form of ‘progress’. With a review of Ireland’s abortion legislation reportedly underway, abortion campaigners are in fact calling for an all-out demolition of the “ongoing barriers to abortion care” they perceive, despite skyrocketing abortion numbers and over 13,000 unborn babies aborted in the first two years of legalisation alone. 

The ruthless advocacy of abortion at all costs continues on despite the statistics showing that the equivalent of five classes of children a week are being aborted across the country. 

Data from the Central Statistics Office showed that the number of births in Ireland fell by 10% year on year for the first quarter of 2020. This tumble was nothing new; in the ten years from 2009 to 2019, a time period dominated largely by economic growth, Ireland continued to have fewer babies – the birth rate in that decade fell by a shocking 20%. As reported by Gript in 2020, Ireland’s fertility rate, the number of children per woman, fell further to 1.7, which was significantly under the replacement level of 2.1. 

Data from November revealed that Ireland has now joined the ‘disaster zone,’ alongside the likes of Hong Kong and Egypt. 

Births here fell by 8.8 per cent in 2020, over the course of the pandemic with Irish media reporting that there has been no sign of any post-lockdown baby boom in Ireland despite hopeful speculation. Rather, birth rates not only continued to fall, as was the pattern over the last decade, but the situation has actually worsened, with our birth rate now on track to touch 1.5 – a fall of over 25% in just over a decade.

C: Guillaume de Germain / Unsplash

 

Iran takes action — while Ireland fails to incentivize motherhood 

While the political establishment in Ireland seems to be blanking the falling birth rate, Iran’s politicians are taking a keen interest in their situation.

Clearly shaken by a 550,000 fall in the number of annual births between 2016 and 2021, they are determined to do something about it.

Official media in the country outlined the underlying reason for the government’s decision to implement new policies: an alarming decline in the nation’s birth rate. Notably, daily newspaper The Teheran Times left out any mention of abortion in their coverage of what they described as an ‘aging crisis’ that demanded ‘family support incentives’.

The decision is rooted in Iran’s low fertility rates. In the 1990s after the Iran-Iraq war, the government encouraged small families because experts were predicting a population explosion. Government warnings were heeded, and proved all too effective, with the country experiencing “the largest and fastest fall in fertility ever recorded” from 1972-2000, according to population experts.

In what has now resulted in one of the fastest rates of ageing in the world, the fertility rate in Iran fell from around 7.0 births per woman in the early 1980s to 2.1 births per woman in 2000. Nowadays, Iran’s fertility rate sits at 1.6 children per woman. Like Ireland, this fertility rate confounds all conventional wisdom, and the demographic story playing out in the Islamic nation mirrors our own population calamity.

In addition to the broad-ranging new measures, the Iranian media will be expected by the Government to get on-board with the campaign for more children, from producing family-focused advertising to an all-out promotion of marriage. The Iranian government states that:

  • All government agencies are expected to promote the “positive and valuable aspects of marriage
  • Advertisements should feature families with 3 or more children
  • A “National Population Youth Award” for institutions which help to raise the birth rate
  • Ten percent of government media programming must be devoted to promoting an increase in the population.

Iran’s all-out approach reflects the severity of the situation. The county has acknowledged that its people are getting older with each year that passes, and this means that in another 20 years, they will be one of the oldest countries in the world, potentially the oldest in thirty years. Ireland is facing a similarly pessimistic future. 

But unlike Iran, this pessimism is set to continue without firm intervention, driven by a belittling of motherhood as a viable option for women, through factors including the affordability of one-income families and our social expectations of women, many of whom feel forced to put off starting families. 

Although increasing the country’s birth rate may likely prove complex and difficult for Iran – as evidenced through China’s continued population woes years on from the abandonment of their one child policy – they are at least trying, through comprehensive and impactful public policies. 

Iran’s new measures to support marriage and child-rearing cut straight to the heart of the problem. As seen in Hungary, a country which also witnessed a huge population fall from the eighties until 2019, it was only when the government rolled out pro-marriage and pro-family policies – separate from less effective financial incentives – that the birth rate finally began to rise.

C: Unsplash

 

In Ireland, the only ever solution that seems to be proposed by our own government is more childcare, when many women can be forgiven for not seeing the appeal of the idea of dropping their child in a créche at the crack of dawn ahead of a long commute to work and then repeating the same process before finally returning home exhausted.

Some commentators argue that having children is simply no longer regarded as a fulfilling life undertaking, and because of this, measures like those introduced in Iran will be futile, even in an Islamic nation. It is true; the discouragement to have children is all around us in popular culture – with elites like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently bagging an award and celebrated as environmental “role models” for deciding not to have any more children to ‘reduce their impact on the planet’.

People are having ‘fewer children than they want’

Studies, however, paint a different picture, and by contrast, appear to indicate that having fewer children is not actually what women or men want. 

Consultancy firm Globescan polled people in 19 countries about ideal family size, and discovered that people desired to have more children than they expected to be able to have. The survey concluded that, “For more and more couples, the greatest source of anguish is that they have fewer children than they want, or none at all.” Another OECD study mirrored those findings, concluding that: “in all countries the number of children women intend to have is far above the actual number they already have, which points to barriers in family formation across the OECD.”

This is evidence that people do want to have more children, despite barriers imposed by the decline in marriage, negative social attitudes, housing, commuting and more. Because of these factors, they are not having those children, as laid out in black and white in Ireland’s most recent, abysmal birth rate statistics. The fact that people would like to have children, but feel they cannot provide for them in an economically developed county like Ireland, is a sad indication of where we’re at as a nation at this point in time.

Ireland ought to pay close attention to what Iran and other countries are doing – because while our own population decline has been described as a ticking time-bomb, it is not an entirely unmanageable problem if a start is made on addressing it. 

Iran’s culture may be very different to our own in many ways, but its worth examining what other counties are doing to try to offset a baby bust that will cripple our future and crash our economy. 

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