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Left wing and liberal pundits on demographic decline

May 21st, 2018

Left-wing and liberal commentators find it unlikely that the government can tackle the demographic decline through institutional incentives alone.

PM Orbán has often described stopping Hungary’s demographic decline as one of his major tasks in the forthcoming decades. Among other things, he has said that women’s willingness to give birth is the “most private public issue”. In order to help families to have as many children as they wish, PM Orbán called for the provision of even more help to young couples.

In an interview with Heti Világgazdaság, Zsolt Spéder, head of the Hungarian Demographic Institute in the Central Statistical Office doubts that the government can reverse the current trends. Boosting the birth rate, he warns, would not suffice, given the falling number of women of childbearing age. Spéder also quotes surveys which show that women identify the lack of appropriate public childcare facilities and work opportunities as the main obstacles to having more children. In addition, modern couple relationships have become less stable, which also weakens the willingness to have children, Spéder points out. Thus, the government’s financial incentives alone are unlikely to reverse demographic trends, he concludes.

Writing in the same weekly, Árpád Tóta goes so far as to accuse the government of speeding up Hungary’s demographic decline. The liberal commentator, known for his angry and combative opinion articles, contends that under the Orbán government, the situation of Hungarian families has significantly worsened. Tóta thinks that the Hungarian education and health care systems would not be able to serve the needs of more children in the first place. Thus a higher birth rate among poor Hungarians and particularly the Roma population would result in ‘the creation of uncivilized and aggressive internal migrants no better than present day Arab migrants’, Tóta writes.

In 168 Óra, Attila Buják likens the government’s plan to boost child birth to demographic planning under Communist and nationalist regimes. The left-wing pundit thinks that demographic growth policies are the hallmarks of nationalist and authoritarian regimes that like to use population growth to strengthen their legitimacy and claim success. Citing demographic experts, Buják concludes by suggesting that government intervention cannot turn around the population decrease, and the best remedy against depopulation would be to improve welfare and economic opportunities.

In a separate article in 168 Óra, demography expert Dorottya Szikra notes that child benefits have not been adjusted since 2010. Szikra thinks that in order to reverse demographic decline, the government should increase unconditional social benefits, particularly the benefits to single mothers. In addition, the government should give fathers more incentives to take more responsibility in child rearing, Szikra proposes.

Mérce’s Szilárd István Pap overviews the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’s recent survey on Hungarian mothers. According to the survey, Hungarian mothers cite the absence of job opportunities and inflexible jobs as the main obstacles to having more children. In addition to more family-friendly workplaces, mothers call for more government help. Meanwhile, the biggest cohort (23 per cent) of mothers in the survey identified Fidesz as the most family friendly party.

In Heti Világgazdaság, György Balavány finds it pathetic that a Hungarian government ‘that has chased half a million Hungarian away’ should ‘crow about demographic decline’. The Christian liberal columnist does not find it problematic in itself that there are less Hungarians, but he acknowledges that depopulation will result in severe economic difficulties. Balavány blames government’s policies as the main reason for migration from Hungary, and, consequently for the country’s depopulation. Balavány also finds it unacceptable for individual citizens to have more children in order to help collective aims including national reproduction.