FT: The strange thing with fertility is that nobody really knows what’s going on

NetResilience leader Anna Rotkirch assesses how young people view having children and suggests we may need a societal rethink. She was interviewed for the Financial Times by Henry Mance.

Twenty years ago, Finland seemed to have everything. The birth rate was on the rise and the proportion of women in the workforce was high. Political decision-makers around the world came to learn about the Nordic model behind it.

Despite all the support offered to parents, Finland’s fertility rate has fallen by almost a third since 2010. This is a puzzle for Anna Rotkirch, research director at the Family Federation of Finland’s Population Research Institute. A sociologist and demographer, she is one of Europe’s experts on how young people view having children.

“The strange thing with fertility is nobody really knows what’s going on. The policy responses are untried because it’s a new situation. It’s not primarily driven by economics or family policies. It’s something cultural, psychological, biological, cognitive”, says Anna.

Her findings suggest that children do not fit into many millennials’ life plans. Once it was a sacrifice not to have children. Now starting a family means sacrificing independence. “In most societies, having children was a cornerstone of adulthood. Now it’s something you have if you already have everything else. It becomes the capstone.”

What should politicians not do? Would lower fertility rates be welcome, given climate change? Should Governments tell young people to have children for the sake of the economy? Or can immigration simply fill the gap?

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Financial Times (29.1.2024) Birth rates are falling in the Nordics. Are family-friendly policies no longer enough?