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Researcher: Family finances could be depressing Finland's birth rate

A university researcher says if women get more support to combine career and family, it might help boost the country's dwindling birth rate.

Vauva lähikuvassa.
Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

Helsinki University family policy and poverty researcher Heikki Hiilamo says finances could be one factor depressing Finland’s birth rate, following recent demographic projections indicating that the local birth rate will decline for the eighth consecutive year this year.

Hiilamo told Yle News that income affects people’s reproductive choices. "To raise a child, you need to have the financial resources and some sort of stability in your life. And if there is high economic instability – most people rely on paid work for income – that will affect your life and the number of children you can have," Hiilamo noted.

He added that uncertainty related to family finances and employment seems to be associated with lower fertility. "My interpretation is that young families - if they are too unsure about what's going to happen in terms of their labour force participation - they probably won't give it a go for the first or subsequent child."

The researcher pointed out that Finland has endured two major economic recessions in the past 25 years that have contributed to families not always being able to afford the number of kids they want.

Earlier this year, an Yle analysis found that the cost of having a baby was one of the factors preventing couples from raising children and calculated the cost of the first two years or so of an infant's life.

Hiilamo argues that women continue to bear the brunt of the financial burden for child rearing. He said that this is because family benefits policy has failed to tackle the gender difference in granting assistance.

"Nearly all benefits linked to the care of infant children are available for women as well as men, but in practice mothers are the ones who receive them," he noted in a column for Yle.

"My guess is that if we could support women in combining work and family life, we could invigorate fertility," he added.

Insufficient support for women

Hiilamo pointed out that high education levels among women means that policies to support families will have to be radically overhauled to ensure that pursuing family life does not mean a waste of resources and loss of potential.

"Many women decide not to have children and pursue their career in working life because there is not enough support - public support, not enough support from their partners," he asserted.

Hiilamo said that Finland could revive its flagging birth rate by reducing the cost of child rearing for women. This could be achieved by overhauling family policies and changing attitudes to encourage more fathers to get involved in caring for their youngsters.

Asked about concrete measures to help lower the threshold to starting a family, Hiilamo mentioned reducing daycare fees and providing more encouragement for fathers to participate in child rearing.

"It seems that the more equal distribution of unpaid care work between partners is key."

"I would support more quotas for fathers, so that fathers would increase their participation in childcare and probably we would need to have a big reform concerning parental leave and child home care," he concluded.

This week, Yle News' All Points North podcast will discuss why Finnish residents are reluctant to have children with sociologist and sexologist Osmo Kontula of the Family Federation of Finland as well as mum-of-two Safa Ali. The programme will be available on iTunes, Spotify and Yle Areena from about 4.30pm Friday afternoon.

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