Finland’s Low Birth Rate A ‘Threat To Social Sustainability’

Fresh legislation which includes more family-friendly policies are the key to tackling the problem, say experts & politicians.

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File picture of pregnant woman / Credit: iStock

Finns are having fewer and fewer children, with the country’s birth rate now at an historical low. And the Families Minister Annika Saarikko (Centre) says the low birth rate is a threat to social sustainability.

Childbirths are decreasing in larger cities, and in the countryside alike, across all demographics. Finland’s birth rate has been falling for the last seven years and has now reached a low point.

The number of people wishing to have large families has dropped, and there is also an increase in the number of people who have no children at all.

Although the worst years of the recent recession seem to be over, the threat of unemployment and financial insecurity are known to affect decisions on whether or not to have children. But researchers found the recent improved economic situation has so far not had any impact on Finland’s birth rate.

“Births just seem to fall, and the future is difficult to predict” says Johanna Närvi, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Health and Welfare THL.

Future Work Challenges

A low birth rate now will lead to labour market shortages, and Minister Saarikko says that in a couple of decades there won’t be enough people of working age to fill the jobs.

“Consideration of the situation of families in the workplace is important, and there should be options for flexible working or other arrangements” she says, adding that this is something the public sector could look into.

Saarikko says she is concerned about birth rates, because they can be considered as reflective of a country with woman-friendly and family-friendly policies.

In 2010 the average of a Finnish woman giving birth was 28.3 years. By 2018 the average age had already risen to 29.

In February it became clear that a major overhaul of family legislation wouldn’t happen during this parliamentary term.

Child-Friendly Working Practices

Experts agree with the Minister that one area which is in need of reform, and which could encourage people to have more children, is in family-friendly work policies and flexible working arrangements.

“A more flexible combination of family, work and study is a core issue” says Anna Rotkirch, Director of the Population Research Institute Väestöliitto.

“Young women are still afraid of falling out of the labour market [if they have children] and long term benefits of having a family seem to be a challenge in many ways” agrees Kela researcher Anneli Miettinen.

“The attitude is such that you must be either full time at work, or full time at home. Part time opportunities could be used by both parents” Miettinen adds.

Reversing The Low Birth Rate Trend

Experts say it’s difficult to pinpoint individual actions that would reverse the low birth rate trend, but they have some ideas.

“Restoring full-time access to early childhood education would be important” says THL’s Johanna Närvi.

“It has been found that in countries with extensive daycare services, there is also a high birth rate” she adds.

Researchers note that a single benefit or political decision won’t magically improve the country’s birth rate, but also point out that Finland’s low birth rate mirrors a wider cultural change in the West, of people starting families later, having fewer children or no children at all as a conscious lifestyle choice.