7 July 2012, 14:28

Large families: prospects and concerns

Large families: prospects and concerns
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On July 8th Russia marks the Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness. According to experts, if Russia’s birthrate remains at the current level, the country’s population will shrink twofold over the next 50 years.

In Russia, families with three or more children make up only 6% of the total number of families, which is three times lower than the corresponding number in Europe. The number of births per woman of childbearing age has slightly gone up in the last few years, averaging 1.3 children in 2006 and 1.6 in 2012. Sweden boasts the same birthrate while France cites 1.96. In 2011, Russia saw a baby boom compared to 2000, with demographers reporting nearly 2 million births.

However, the current birthrate is insufficient to keep the nation's population at the right level. At present, an increase in the birthrate is due to baby boomers of the 1980s and those over 30-35. Most women living in big cities are putting career before family and prefer to have no more than one child.

Federal subsidies for families with more than two children were introduced to encourage women to have more than one child. The so-called ‘maternity capital’, which currently amounts to 366,000 roubles, is paid to families after the birth of their second child. In addition, 67 regions pay couples a one-off allowance of 50,000-100,000 roubles after for the birth of the third child.

Families with several children are also allocated land plots. In addition, experts insist on introducing tax exemptions for employers who take on mothers with several children.

But despite these incentives, ultimately people rely on their own vision of family life, says Alexei Komov, Ambassador to the World Congress of Families in the UN.

"According to sociological research, people’s decisions as to the number of children they decide to have are influenced by the media, films, their own family traditions, and their social environment. If someone wants to have many kids, he most probably will anyway."

Most married couples, however, do not want to have many children and don’t care about demographic issues. According to a recent survey by the All-Russia Public Opinion Center, only 13% of Russians are worried about the country's demographic problems.

And this is hardly surprising. Some families cannot afford having more than one child. Parents are often worried that they won’t be able to provide their kids with good education. Besides, Russia is yet to create the environment which would be large family-friendly, says Yelena Mizulina of the parliamentary Family, Women and Children Committee.

"The government's priority is to develop the right infrastructure for families with children. There should be schools, day-care centers, hospitals, recreational facilities, and restaurants where parents could be together with their kids. This would help encourage people to have more children."

In the last few years, the government increased the number daycare centers and medical centers for children. In some regions, however, local authorities misused federal subsidies by allotting uninhabitable land plots to families with three or more children.

Sociologists keep reminding society that large families tend to produce caring people. The problem of shrinking population is affecting the economy as well as the number of people of working age is decreasing. Anatoly Antonov of the Moscow State University’s sociology department, comments.

"The economy should be “focused” on the family. Otherwise, economic crises that could occur would put people’s lives at higher risk."

In Antonov’s estimates, 20% of Russian families would like to have a third and fourth child. 15% of them are prepared to have more kids on the condition that Russia's living standards match those in Germany.

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