During the course of this century, the global population will peak; however, some nations will begin to experience a decline in their population. An aging population and longer life expectancies combined with fewer people choosing to have children is creating an unsustainable inverted population pyramid that will have dire consequences many nations’ economies. As National Geographic reported in the April 2023 edition: ‘Scientists predict this century could see the planet’s population peak—followed by a decline that will be felt in some countries more than others. Italy provides a cautionary tale: when the fertility rate is too low for too long, the share of the working population plummets.”[i]
Other countries in the West, including the United States, face a similar population decline. With a fertility rate as low as just over 1.6, the United States faces a risk of economic strain as the population grows older, in addition to a strain on the continuation of replenishing culture and civilization.[iii]
These challenges present an urgent opportunity for countries to invest in their own growth, as
civilization depends on it.
The American Conservative Union in the United States invited Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to speak at CPAC 2022 and demonstrated that Hungary is a country from which the West could learn. America could emulate a plethora of social policies that are influenced by the traditional morality that Hungary stands for.
In his interview granted to Gergely Dobozi, published on Hungarian Conservative under the title ‘Hungary Resists the Disruptive Tendencies of Liberalism’, Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule argued that traditional morality is essentially intertwined with the idea that ‘the law should be stable over time and protect traditional expectations about how human life is arranged and how society is conducted.’[i]
This is essentially what Edmund Burke held. He wrote that societies rely on traditions and the family as ‘the unbought grace of life’ that connects past societies to future generations. Essentially,
a nation relies on the generational passing down of tradition and understandings.
Thus, supporting the institution of marriage and families promotes social stability. Families provide the foundation for the social fabric of a society; when families are healthy and well-functioning, they provide a sense of belonging, instil values of respect, responsibility, and empathy, as well as provide basic education for children.
Families undoubtedly serve as the cornerstone of society, therefore addressing the demographic crisis must be a priority for policymakers. Hungary faced this issue head-on and since the Orbán government is in place, it has increased the fertility rate by implementing pro-family policies. Hungarian statistics show the current fertility rate in Hungary is at 1.49, a substantial increase from 1.25 in 2010. Although this rate is still quite low, the government’s goal is to reach 2.1 by 2030. Hungary’s President, Katalin Novák, when she was serving as minister of family affairs, championed pro-family policies that have helped alleviate the demographic crisis. Notably, the Hungarian government
spends nearly six per cent of the country’s GDP towards this initiative.[iv]
These policies seem to be working; since 2010, 28 per cent more couples entered into marriage, and in the past 30 years Hungary has seen the highest increase in marriages. In addition, the number of abortions in Hungary has fallen by 41 per cent.[v]
As this type of data is collected and examined over years, and the policies cited are still fairly recent, it will be interesting to observe whether they ultimately reach their desired goal. Hungary’s government certainly does the best it can. It offers loans and tax deductions, but those eligible must be working. One interest-free, all-purpose low interest loan states: ‘Every woman between the ages of 18 and 40 years living in her first marriage and in employment for a minimum of three years will be eligible’ as this loan’s repayment is deferred for every child, and upon the third child, the loan is entirely forgiven.
Furthermore, Hungary understands that family policy is holistic as these families also need to expand their living spaces, so Hungary’s family home ownership subsidy program known as CSOK allows eligible families with two and three children to apply for a grant towards the purchase of a home. Hungary’s family policies also include: child care and expansion of nurseries, mortgage deductions, exemption from personal income taxes, and even a car purchase programme.
I believe that most people would choose to raise families if they did not feel so economically precarious and vulnerable in modern society. What we are seeing in many Western countries instead is rising rates of abortion, contraception, and other factors, and consequently a concerning decline in birth and fertility rates. Hungary, however, has sought to encourage the building of families by alleviating some of the economic burden.
Many conservatives in American society have been expressing
a desire for policies to support family development and encourage marriage,
and Hungary’s example has shown that policies like these indeed can work. How these policies will economically work in America is another question, as Americans are not generally favourable towards generous social programmes. But a serious policy discussion among Americans and in the West would be certainly prudent because recent research shows that ‘two-parent households are on the decline in the United States as divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise.’[vi]
UNICEF ranks the United States as last for family-friendly policies in the world.[vii] Hungary ranks second in this report, and many look to Hungary for their leading policy initiatives on this front. The alliance between the United States and Hungary could be used as a bridge to share ideas on conservative policymaking not just on international relations and defence, but also on social policy.
[i] Craig Welch, ‘The Impact of Population Booms and Busts, Nationalgeographic. com (31 March 2023), https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/graphics/global-population-8-billion-demographic-dividend-data-feature
[ii] Brady E. Hamilton, Ph.D., Joyce A. Martin, M.P.H., and Michelle J.K. Osterman, M.H.S.,
Division of Vital Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, ‘Births: Provisional Data for 2020’, Vital Statistics Rapid Release, No. 12., May 2021, cdc.gov, accessed 26 July 2023.
[iii] Gergely Dobozi, ‘Hungary Resists the Disruptive Tendencies of Liberalism — an Interview with Harvard Professor Adrian Vermeule’, Hungarian Conservative (12 February 2023), https://www.hungarianconservative.com/articles/interview/adrian_vermeule_liberalism_conservatism_rule_of_law_neutrality_state_church_eu_von_der_leyen_morality_common_good/, accessed 26 July 2023.
[iv] The Editors, About Hungary, ‘President Novák: Pro-family is the answer to the demographic crisis’ (9 June 2023), https://abouthungary.hu/news-in-brief/president-novak-pro-family-is-answer-to-demographic-crisis, accessed 25 July 2023.
[v] Hungarian Central Statistical Office, ‘Vital events, 2019’, ksh.hu, https://www.ksh.hu/docs/eng/xftp/stattukor/nepmozg/2019/index.html, accessed 25 July 2023.
[vi] Pew Research Center, ‘Parenting in America — 1. The American Family Today’, pewresearhc.org (17 December 2015), https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2015/12/17/1-the-american-family-today/, accessed 25 July 2023.
[vii] Yekaterina Chzhen, Anna Gromada, Gwyther Rees, ‘Are the world’s richest countries family friendly? — Policy in the OECD and the EU’, unicef-irc.org (June 2019, June), https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/Family-Friendly-Policies-Research_UNICEF_%202019.pdf, accessed 25 July 2023.