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'Can policies enhance fertility in Europe?' and questions beyond

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Disciplines
  • Economics

Abstract

“Can policies enhance fertility in Europe?” and questions beyond Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 2008, pp. 29-34 “Can policies enhance fertility in Europe?” and questions beyond Nikolai Botev∗ The question posed in the title of the international conference organised by the Vienna Institute of Demography in 2007 seems to be increasingly on the minds of policy makers, the academic community and the public at large. This is understandable, given that throughout most of Europe, period fertility indicators have reached very low levels and countries are facing rapidly changing age structures along with the prospect of population decrease. The mixed evidence about the effect of existing policies aimed at influencing fertility and the growing number of countries throughout Europe pursuing such policies suggest that the question of whether policies can enhance fertility in Europe needs to be asked in conjunction with another question, namely whether it is worthwhile to pursue policies aimed at enhancing fertility, given the uncertainty of their outcome. This second question can be answered affirmatively, if policies contribute to having healthier, better educated future generations, parents can combine their work and family responsibilities more easily, these policies are fiscally and economically feasible and sustainable, respect all rights and freedoms and are coherent with the policies pursued in other domains. The last statement raises at least two additional questions. What are the benefits and at what cost? In view of the new demographic realities in Europe, it is often argued that doing nothing might be more harmful than taking policy action on the basis of incomplete information and erring in the process (see, for example, Špidla 2007). One of the assumptions behind such a position seems to be that family/fertility policies are good in themselves, so relatively little can go wrong. While agreeing that procrastination would be a mistake, I would

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