6 Creative Ways Countries Have Tried to Up Their Birth Rates
When the Soviet Union took a census of Georgia in 1989, more than 5 million people lived there. But by 2014, the population in the former Soviet republic had plummeted to 3.7 million people, the Telegraph reports. To avoid what it calls a “demographic catastrophe,” a non-profit organization called the Demographic Development Fund recently announced that it's launching a tool familiar to singles the world over: A dating website.
The DDF is running a census of single men and women—including those who are divorced or have lost a spouse—and are entering everything from their height and weight to zodiac sign into a database in hopes of making love connections. Sounds crazy, but a nationwide dating website is just one of many creative ways countries and organizations have encouraged citizens to get it on.
1. GET DOWN DURING VACATION // DENMARK
In 2014, with Denmark's birthrate at a 27-year low, an ad campaign from Spies Travel asked Danes to book a romantic city holiday and "Do It For Denmark." According to the company, Danes have 46 percent more sex on vacation than they do at home, and 10 percent of Danish kids are conceived on vacation. To sweeten the deal, Spies Travel told customers to book with their “ovulation discount,” and if they could prove they conceived on vacation, they’d win baby supplies for three years (and a child-friendly vacation). Spies Travel didn’t stop there: In 2015, they unveiled their “Spies Parent Purchase,” in which hopeful future grandmas could buy active vacations for their adult children in hopes that they’d conceive a child on holiday. (The more sports you do, the more you want to do it, apparently.)
2. EAT MINTS AND MAKE BABIES ON NATIONAL NIGHT // SINGAPORE
Singapore aggressively tackled their low birth rate problem—with the help of mints. On August 9, 2012, Singapore authorities partnered with mint-peddlers Mentos (“The Freshmaker”) to put together “National Night,” a campaign meant to encourage Singaporean couples to let their “patriotism explode” and help the nation increase its 0.78 children per woman birth rate. The resulting ad went viral. “Singapore's population, it needs some increasing/So forget waving flags, August 9th we be freaking … I'm a patriotic husband, you're my patriotic wife, let's do our civic duty and manufacture life,” the smooth-voiced, minty-breathed rapper suggests. “The birth rate ain’t goin’ spike itself!”
But that’s not all: Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority also placed a limit on the number of small one-bedroom flats that could be built in an effort to curb the singleton lifestyle and encourage people to shack up and make babies.
3. GO HOME EARLY EVERY THIRD WEDNESDAY AND GET IT ON // SOUTH KOREA
South Korea’s birth rate has fallen to one of the lowest in the developed world, at 1.187 children per woman in 2013. The low birth rate is in part the fault of a government program to promote smaller families in the 1970s and ‘80s; but more recently, financial woes are more to blame for the baby slowdown—South Koreans have one of the highest household debt burdens in East Asia, at roughly 160 percent of income.
One of the biggest concerns that South Korean parents have is being able to pay for their children’s care and education, so the government is promising to greatly expand the network of low-cost governmental childcare facilities, and is actively trying to weaken the perception that a college degree is necessary for success.
The South Korean government is also taking other, more creative measures to encourage its citizens to procreate. In addition to the cash gifts and incentives offered to staff who have more than one child, in 2010, the South Korean government decided to turn off the lights in its offices at 7:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month—which the government dubbed “Family Day”—to "help staff get dedicated to childbirth and upbringing." While the official in charge of the program acknowledged that going home early probably didn’t have a direct link to making more babies, every little bit helps.
4. HAVE A BABY, WIN A FRIDGE // RUSSIA
Russia’s population was shrinking dramatically after the fall of the Soviet Union, propelled by a low birth rate and high death rate. So, in 2007, the government declared September 12 National Day of Conception, in the hopes that giving couples the day off from work to do their civic duty would result in a baby spike nine months later, on Russia’s national day, June 12. Women who gave birth that day could win refrigerators, money, and even cars.
It seems to have worked—by 2013, Russia’s birth rate had surpassed America’s. That’s a big deal to the dying bear: Russia is already one of the most sparsely settled nations in the world, owing to its massive land size; in the 2000s, demographic experts were concerned that if this trend continued, Russia's population might sink below 100 million by 2050. In the run-up to his presidential campaign in 2011, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged to spend £33 billion to boost Russia’s birth rate by 30 percent over the next five years. Although Russia’s birth rate hasn’t noticeably increased since 2011 (that year, it was at 1.6 births per woman, and it has stayed at 1.7 since 2012—still a massive increase since the 1.2 births of 2000), the program does appear to have had some success, with years of demographic trends reversing and Russia showing steady population growth.
5. NO BABIES = HIGHER TAXES // ROMANIA
In the 1960s, Romania was approaching zero population growth—a terrifying prospect for a Communist nation that held the Marxist principle that economic health lay in a robust labor class. So, starting in 1966, the government took some drastic and chilling measures.
They chose the stick rather than the carrot. Though there were tax and monetary incentives to encourage people to have children, they also punished people for not having them: Childless men and women over the age of 25, regardless of marital status, were subject to a new tax that could be as much as 20 percent of their income. Divorce was also made incredibly difficult; in 1967, only 28 divorces were allowed, a precipitous decrease from the 26,000 the year before. Police were installed in hospitals to make sure that no illegal abortions were performed, and legal importation of birth control was halted.
It worked, at least in the short term. The baby bounce was significant—273,687 in 1966 to 527,764 in 1967—but lasted only as long as the police remained in hospitals. In the 1980s, the Nicolae Ceausescu regime again faced a declining birth rate and instituted even more draconian measures to raise it: Women were subjected to monthly gynecological exams to detect pregnancies in their earliest stage and to ensure that the pregnancies came to term. These exams were performed by “demographic command units” that would also interrogate childless individuals and couples about their sex lives. Access to abortion was made even more difficult; in 1985, the government declared that in order to be eligible for an abortion, regardless of the circumstances, a woman had to have had five children and all those children had to still be under her care, or be over 45. At the same time, the monetary incentives encouraging women to have children were barely enough to buy milk, under the country’s depressed economic conditions.
Pretty grim. The campaign to forcibly control Romanian women’s fertility ended with the overthrow of Ceausescu’s regime in the bloody revolution of 1989.
6. HANG OUT WITH A ROBOT BABY // JAPAN
In addition to a stagnating economy, Japan is suffering from a seriously low birth rate—so low that in 1000 years, one demographer claims, the Japanese will be extinct. The country’s fertility rate fell below two children per woman in 1975, and, as of 2015, was around 1.42. But that means that its elderly population is starting to outpace its young population. In 2012, toiletries company Unicharm said that sales of its adult diapers “slightly surpassed” baby diapers for the first time since the company moved into the elderly market in 1987.
The Japanese government, some critics claim, hasn’t done enough to address its low birth rate and in 2010, students at the University of Tsukuba stepped into the breach with Yotaro, a robot baby. Though he doesn’t exactly look like a real baby, he cries, sneezes, suffers that perpetually drippy nose that is instantly recognizable to any parent, giggles when tickled, and is calmed by his rattle. His creators are hoping that if he can spark some measure of parental emotion in the people who see him, maybe they’ll consider making a real baby. "A robot can't be human but it's great if this robot triggers human emotions, so humans want to have their own baby," said Hiroki Kunimura, the Yotaro project leader.
A version of this story ran in 2014.