Russian scheme to raise the country’s fertility rate flawed, report finds
Russia’s use of direct payments to families in a bid to raise the country’s fertility rate appears to have produced marginal results, according to a new report from the National Research University Higher School of Economics.
The Russian maternity capital (MC) program was designed to raise the country’s low birthrate – which then stood at 1.3 children per woman. There were no payments for each woman’s first child, but on adding second or subsequent children to the family – via natural birth or adoption – mothers could claim 300,000 rubles (£3,600 or $4,700) at any time after the child reached three years of age. Women could apply only once during their lifetimes, and the money could be spent in a range of ways, including housing or education costs or adding to the mother’s retirement fund.
During 2007-2016 more than 6m women received funds, with total costs reaching 1bn rubles (£11m or $15m). But the report finds that the rise in the birthrate during that period – a hike of 0.15 to 1.45 – largely reflects a shift in the time when mothers are having children, rather than an increase in long-term fertility. Researchers found that the rise in fertility was greater for married than unmarried women, and slightly higher among low-income women than other income groups.
Russia joins a number of other countries whose attempts to raise the fertility rate have produced unconvincing results. Schemes offering financial incentives for women have been used by governments in several Western countries, including Australia, France, Germany, Canada (Quebec) and Spain. In Spain, researchers found that the 2,500 euro (£2,150 or $2,800) universal child allowance, introduced in 2007, helped to increase the birth rate by 6%. A growth of the birth rate due to child support payments was also found by surveys conducted in Israel and Canada.
International experience suggests that employment terms and childcare markets are just as influential as cash payments in shaping women’s decisions over childbirth. Chiara Saraceno of the Berlin Social Science Center believes that to raise fertility rates “work-family conciliation policies should be more developed, in order to reduce the number of mothers who, not always willingly, leave the labour market because of motherhood.” This problem is worse, she adds, “among the less educated, who often do not have the means to buy child care on the market.’
Where cash payments are used, Saraceno argues, “measures should be less strict, less fragmented, and more continuous over time.”
Laurent Toulemon of the French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) agrees that financial measures incentivising childbirth must be long-term – perhaps continuing until the child reaches 18 – and that mothers must be confident that the policy will endure.
Toulemon also explains that the national fertility rate tends to rise when having children presents women with neither too great a financial burden, nor the requirement to leave employment. Helpful policies include flexible working hours, easy access to childcare, long school days and housing benefits, he adds.
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