NEWS

State not taking much action on demographics

Greece’s population is shrinking by the year but the state either does not care or, what is more likely, is considering the cost. Based on fertility indicators, Greece is at the bottom of the list in the European Union. In other words, Greeks are having fewer children every year but instead of escalating efforts to fight the problem, the Greek state is doing less than the other, previously 15, members of the European Union to encourage people to have more children. The Greek state pays fewer benefits per child to families than any other EU member state. Yet the reason people are having fewer children is the financial burden placed on families with the birth of each new child. A major survey, which began in 2002 and was completed this year for the Health and Social Solidarity Ministry, titled «Implementation of a Comprehensive Demographic Policy to Confront the Low Birthrate,» was carried out by a group at the National Center for Social Research (EKKE) by a team headed by economist-demographer Haris Symeonidou, EKKE’s director of research. The survey examined the existing situation in Greece and in Europe and proposed clear policies at a specific cost. The total fertility coefficient, that is, the total number of children per woman of childbearing age, has been lower already for 20 years than the rate necessary to replace the population. The more time that passes, the greater the gap between the desired number and reality becomes. In 2002, the fertility coefficient was 1.25 children per woman of childbearing age, putting Greece alongside Spain at the bottom of the list of EU member states, and also the world. The ideal number is 2.3 children per woman of childbearing age. The result: a shrinking and aging population. The survey disproved the idea that «poor people have more children» and shows that the main reason for the low birthrate should be sought in the financial realm, as shown by the results by region. The lowest rates were in the prefectures of Evrytania, Fokida, Serres, Viotia, Grevena, Ileia, Arcadia, Fthiotida, Arta and Kilkis. All these areas are among the poorest in the country. The highest were in Cephalonia, Kozani, Larissa, Florina, Lesvos, Iraklion, Rethymnon, the Dodecanese, Zakynthos and Xanthi. With a few exceptions (for example, in Xanthi, where there is a large Muslim population), these are among the wealthiest areas in the country. «This simple observation leads to the conclusion that the fertility rate in a region is determined mainly by the parents’ financial means,» said Symeonidou. According to Eurostat, there are three likely scenarios for Greece’s future. The most pessimistic forecast, if the state does nothing to change the situation regarding child care and family benefits, is that fertility will descend to 1.40 children per woman of childbearing age. The middle view is for 1.70 and the most optimistic for 1.90, if women are able to combine motherhood with a job, along with an increase in state benefits. EKKE proposals Demographic policy as exercised so far has proved ineffective. For example, unpaid parental leave in the private sector has not proved to be a success, with positive results in only one prefecture. However, in the civil service, where permanent tenure is the norm and the leave is with pay, it has been a success in 20 prefectures. According to Symeonidou, demographic policy should aim at increasing family incomes and ensuring state infrastructure for successfully combining family and work. EKKE’s survey proposes: – The construction of 3,962 daycare centers at a cost of 580 million euros and annual operating costs of 57.4 million euros. – The country needs 86 more primary schools in Attica and another 309 in the rest of the country if they are all to be open during morning hours only (and not morning and afternoon shifts). Attica needs another 75 infant daycare centers and 135 in the rest of the country at a total cost of 78 million euros. – If the recently introduced after-hours program at primary schools is to be expanded, another 2,297 primary schools and 3,529 kindergartens need to be included, at an operating cost of 48.93 million euros per annum. – The institution of mothers’ helpers (a trained woman caring for five children) could cover 50 percent of the 357,827 children aged 1-4 presently not in any child care program. Altogether 35,783 women would be needed at an annual cost of 183,78 million euros, but the cost of institutional daycare would decrease. – The cost of parental leave for 210,000 working women aged 25-40 who expect to have another child, for a period of a year at the basic wage, is estimated at 1.5 billion euros. – The survey said that women should continue work to contribute to the family income and by extension, the birthrate. An employment policy to boost jobs for women aimed at creating 468,000 jobs would have a training cost of 158.6 million euros.