This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Can (or Should?) Denmark Raise its Birth Rate?

An interesting story appeared in the NYTimes International Business section today on a new approach in Denmark (and perhaps Europe more generally) to raising the birth rate. The fact that it appeared in the business section is instructive because untrammeled population growth is always seen as good for the economy--at least in the short-run until the problem of resources crops up. The thrust of the story is that Denmark's sex education programs are now teaching about how to have babies, instead of just how to prevent pregnancy. (Do we really have to teach people how to have babies? I don't think so.)
Recently, Sex and Society, a nonprofit group that provides much of Denmark’s sex education, adjusted its curriculum. The group no longer has a sole emphasis on how to prevent getting pregnant but now also talks about pregnancy and sex in a more positive light.
It is all part of a not-so-subtle push in Europe to encourage people to have more babies. Denmark, like a number of European countries, is growing increasingly anxious about low birthrates. Those concerns have only been intensified by the region’s financial and economic crisis, with high unemployment rates among the young viewed as discouraging potential parents.
Fortunately, the reporter (Danny Hakim) picks up on the irony of trying to bring more babies into a world where the youth employment rate is already high. Will more babies improve that situation? Not likely.
But there is not a consensus about the impact of demographics. Some see a natural maturing of developed societies. Others see disaster ahead, because with fewer workers and more retirees, the active work force faces an increased burden to sustain social programs.
Productivity gains over time, though, can make up for such population stresses. Declining birthrates can also lead to labor shortages, and Germany has faced a gap in skilled labor. But that is hardly an issue now for much of Europe, which is mired in high unemployment.
The story ends with the news that there were about 1,000 more births in 2014 than the year before in Denmark and that maybe sex education had something to do with it. I assembled data from Statistik Denmark (see below) showing that births dropped off with the Great Recession, suggesting that it will take an improved economy to see the birth rate rise back up to where it was before that. Kids don't need pregnancy encouragement--they need a good job.

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