“I haven’t sold a baby pacifier in five years,” says a pharmacy owner in a densely populated area of central Athens. And the official data reinforces his comment and its nightmarish sense of urgency.
In an article in Friday's Kathimerini – on the occasion of a conference co-organized by the Economist and nongovernmental organization HOPEgenesis NGO – the point was made that Greece’s birth rate has fallen below the death rate for the eighth consecutive year.
“Between 2011 and 2015 alone our country’s population declined from 11.2 to 10.8 million,” the article said, adding that forecasts point to a further decline.
At the same time, compared to the 2.4 children per woman that were born in the past, that number has dropped to 1.35 children today.
The problems of aging populations and declining birth rates are spreading across Europe, affecting labor relations, insurance systems and the economy in general.
And if we move away from our own continent, the same anxiety over a declining birth rate is shared by the Japanese, where the fertility rate was 1.43 percent in 2017, while 28 percent of the population is over 65 years old.
Apart from the national strategies that each country must develop, the internal political consensus required on very serious issues – does anyone doubt that demographics belongs in this category? – and the necessary international partnerships, there is one more thing that must be considered which is of major significance.
This is the changing nature of people’s relationships within society and the fact that “traditional” families are hard to establish, and that they fall apart easily.
The commitment and responsibility required to have a child presuppose desires and skills that are constantly changing.
Along with reinforcing political solutions to the demographic problem – like attracting people from other countries – assistance must also be provided to those – including same-sex couples – who are willing to take the risks involved in bringing a child into the world – or adopting one – and raising it.
This demographic predicament is the reason why, these days, we take so much pleasure in the joy of a colleague who has just become a father, or a friend who has just heard and seen the beating of their embryo’s heart in an ultrasound.