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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 May 2016
22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 MAY 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Europe is dying a slow death Iaso Maternity hospital, Greece. Birth rates plummet over recent years as countries scramble to reverse the demographic nightmare and ensure their future amid austerity VANGELIS TSONOS In recent years the birth rate in Greece has crumbled to a beyond worrying number. While in 1980 there would be on average 15.36 childbirths per 1,000 residents, figures have plunged to nine newborns per 1,000 residents - a clear-as-day demographic bomb that needs to be addressed, and fast. The reduction in births started in the ‘90s, but the economic recession of the past seven years has led to an ever-steeper decline, with alarming numbers of 1.1 to 1.3 children per family since 2009. The relatively small, for EU standards, fertility rate of 1.5 children per family in the 2000s seems to be an eternity away. In 2015, Greece saw 98,031 births and 115,266 deaths, while female unemployment remains very high at the same time that budget cuts and austerity measures continue to decimate incomes all across the economic board. Meanwhile, cuts in the health sector provide an even bigger obstacle for working couples who want to start a family, as diminishing day care options make it hard for working women to combine motherhood with a demanding job. Young Greeks are very reluctant to bring their own children into the world and the state must take considerable action to reverse this awful trend before it is too late. It doesn't get any better in other countries either. Only 488,000 babies were born in Italy in 2015; fewer than in any year since the modern state was founded in 1861. Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin sounded the alarms in a recent interview for la Repubblica newspaper. "If we carry on as we are and fail to reverse the trend, there will be fewer than 350,000 births in 10 years' time, 40 per cent less than in 2010 - an apocalypse," she said. Italian women give birth to 1.39 children on average, way below the standard EU average of 1.58. In Austria, President Heinz Fischer recently told lawmakers that his country in 2015 received more asylum applications (88,000) than it saw births (roughly 82,000), a fact that "cannot become a permanent state of affairs", he dramatically stressed. Germany, on the other hand, with an average of 8.2 births per 1,000 inhabitants over the past five years, has witnessed its birth rate plummet to officially the lowest mark in the world for 2014, according to a study by German auditing firm BDO for the Hamburg Institute of International Economics. The country's numbers are shattering for 2015 as well; 677,187 births to 877,745 deaths are numbers that don't bode well for the future of Europe's top dog. The study also points out that if constantly decreasing birth rates aren't tackled, the country's workforce percent- age (in ages between 20-65) would drop from today's 61 to 54 per cent by the year 2030. Without strong labour markets Germany won't be able to maintain its leading economic role for much longer. That partly explains the huge number of migrants and refugees that have arrived in Germany since the migrant crisis broke out. Approximately 1.1 million migrants arrived in the country in 2015, as despite efforts by Chancellor Merkel's government to invest in child care, the influx of young able bodies, mainly from Syria, purposed to fill the significant skills gap, was deemed a better short-term solution. Numbers hardly ever lie. Other countries have resorted to alternative tactics in their quest to put an end to declining population rates. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's population was shrinking dramatically, with birth rates hitting new lows each year. In an act of optimistic desperation, the government declared September 12 National Day of Conception back in 2007, hoping that giving couples a day off work to perform their civic duty would lead to a spike in births. To make matters more interesting, women who gave birth nine months later on the Russia Day of June 12 would receive refrigerators, cash, even cars as a reward. Surprisingly, it worked. By 2013, birth rates in Russia had surpassed America's, climbing from a bleak 1.2 children per family in 2000 to a more optimistic 1.7 in 2015, which resulted in 1,859,092 babies coming into the world for the year. Similarly in Denmark, with the overall birth rate lingering at a 27-year low for 2014, an ad campaign from Spies travel agency came up with a rather risqué plan. The company conducted a survey proving that 10 per cent of Danish kids are conceived abroad and Danish couples have four per cent more sex on vacation than in their homeland. Based on the findings, the agency urged Danes to book a romantic holiday of their choosing and 'Do It For Denmark'. If couples could later prove they conceived on said vacation, they would get to cash in on an 'ovulation gift basket', winning baby supplies for three years including a child-friendly vacation the next year as the cherry on top. Not only did the campaign benefit Spies Travel, but Denmark's fertility rates rebounded in 2014, climbing to 1.69 children per household; the first time since 2010 that the year-end numbers were on the increase. While the eurozone is drowning in its own existential crisis, the level of uncertainty in the continent keeps crawling up the scales, having reached its highest peak of the post-war era. The implementation of harsh economy measures and successive cuts in healthcare has many countries living under economic asphyxiation. And while the continent’s birth rates are taking a downturn, Europe's youth is being forced to look for work abroad. Populations are bound to continue to shrink in astonishing rates. There is little doubt that the gloomy, austerity-stricken Greece of recent years could easily win the title of the austerity experiment’s 'brightest' example. This leaves the powers that be with a decision: Baby boom? Or more doom and gloom? * Vangelis Tsonos is a news writer and TV editor based in Athens, Greece.
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