Demographers say a similar future awaits other European countries, and the issue grows more pressing every day as Europe’s seemingly endless economic troubles accelerate the decline. But bogged down with failed banks and dwindling budgets, few are in any position to do anything about it.
Germany, however, an island of prosperity, is spending heavily to find ways out of the doom-and-gloom predictions, and it would seem ideally placed to show the Continent the way. So far, though, even while spending $265 billion a year on family subsidies, Germany has proved only how hard it can be. That is in part because the solution lies in remaking values, customs and attitudes in a country that has a troubled history with accepting immigrants and where working women with children are still tagged with the label “raven mothers,” implying neglectfulness.
As I discuss in Chapter 10, demographers have long known what kinds of policies need to be implemented, but it seems that Germans are not yet inclined to face reality and adapt to the changing demographics.
Demographers say that a far better investment would be to support women juggling motherhood and careers by expanding day care and after-school programs. They say recent data show that growth in fertility is more likely to come from them.
“If you look closely at the numbers, what you see is the higher the gender equality, the higher the birthrate,” said Reiner Klingholz of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development.
But undoing years of subsidies for traditional households is difficult. “Touching those is political suicide,” said Michaela Kreyenfeld of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.Evolutionary theory would suggest that you adapt or die. The difference is that, contrary to other species, we actually have a choice in the matter.