Has Hungary turned a demographic corner?

Marcus Roberts
April 31, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

Almost a year ago I wrote a piece about the demographic problems that Hungary was facing. (Doesn't time fly! I can remember writing this piece in our lounge after the kids had gone to bed – I was probably worried about some work thing at the time…ah, the good old days) Despite the Orban government trying to prioritise population growth, or at least stabilisation, through internal natural change rather than immigration, the early figures from 2019 were not looking good. Births were down from the year before, the number of deaths were up. The fertility rate was declining and the number of marriages was also on the way down. I noted at the time that the new population measures introduced by the Hungarian government had only just come into effect, but that there was a strong continuing trend of population decline that any policy would have to counteract. (By way of background, Hungary currently has a population of about nine and three-quarter million people. Its population peaked at about one million people more than that in the early 1980s. So in the past thirty years the country's population has declined about 10 per cent.)

Well, a year after my last piece on Hungary, it seems as if there is some good news coming out of the central European country (a needed good news antidote in these times). According to Katalin Novàk , the Hungarian State Secretary for Family and Youth Affairs, 2019 did see some marked improvements in the birth rate, the fertility rate, and the number of marriages. Between January 2019 and January 2020, the Hungarian birth rate (the number of births per 1,000 people) increased by 9.4 per cent. This increase was reflected in the total fertility rate (the number of babies a woman is expected to have over her lifetime) which increased from 1.4 to 1.6 children (the accepted replacement rate is 2.1). Finally, and most remarkably, the number of marriages celebrated in the country increased by 100%.

If these sort of numbers continue in the years ahead, then the Hungarian government's plan to "keep Hungary, Hungarian" might be said to be working. Which would be a good thing, because the measures put in place to encourage marriage and procreation are expensive and extensive. The " Family Protection Action Plan " costs around 2.5 billion USD (roughly 5 per cent of Hungary's GDP and four times its defence budget). It offers couples who have three children a subsidy to buy a minivan to transport their family, and loans are offered for families who have children. The loan of $30,000 is forgiven if a family has three children, but even if you only have two children, the interest rate on the loan is drastically reduced. What about families which choose to have a fourth child? The mother is exempt from income tax for the rest of her life. All of which makes it financially easier for families to have children. If successful, Hungary's plan could be a model for other countries eager to increase their birth rates. Not only does such a plan give financial assistance to families, it also shows that the government and society is committed to supporting families and esteeming parents as an integral part of the state's fabric.