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May 08, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

Hungary says, families first!

A nation’s strength lies in its people. Declining demographic trends throughout Europe pose a worrisome problem, including in Hungary. The trend has been declining into a vicious circle for decades and governments have struggled to break it. Recent demographic statistics in Hungary, however, show that with some ingenuity – like housing incentives and other breaks for families with children – a carefully selected mix of family policies can make a difference.

Some critics in Europe argue that government has no place in efforts to increase the birthrate. Instead, they assert, the focus should be replenishing a cheap labor force by promoting immigration. That is short-sighted and plagued with problems. The Orbán Government has chosen a different path.

“Hungary has demonstrated its strategic leadership as an advocate for the natural family in Europe,” said Larry Jacobs, managing director of the World Congress of Families (WCF), announcing that the International Organization for the Family had picked Hungary as the site for their upcoming international gathering.

“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Hungary has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most family-friendly countries in Europe,” according to the WCF.

Abortions have dropped dramatically. Since the Orbán Government took office in 2010 and began enacting policies that benefit the family, the number of abortions has declined by 25 percent.

A decade ago, Hungary was among tail-ender countries on demographic lists in the EU concerning aging, population decline and life expectancy at birth. However, last year saw a turning point, and the rate of decrease of Hungary’s population has slowed. That’s a result of the lower number of abortions, decrease in the number of deaths, improving birth rate and fewer suicides.

That’s not all.

The decline in population slowed by 16 percent in 2016 from the previous year. In 2016, 93 thousand babies were born in Hungary, 1.5 percent more than in 2015. In 2016, the country saw 126,900 deaths, 3.6 percent less than in 2015. Why is that a big deal? Because it marked a reversal in trends toward population decline that have prevailed since 1981.

Marriages increased by 12 percent in 2016 over the previous year, a 20-year peak. The fertility rate also went up, 15 percent higher than four years ago. The country is in a much different place now than it was then. Unemployment figures are now at record lows.

A big part of the reason for the improving numbers is that Hungarian families enjoy certain forms of state support that are exceptional in Europe. They include the government’s family-friendly personal income tax system as well as the Family Housing Allowance Program (known as “CSOK”) which offers up to 20 million HUF (approximately 65,000 EUR) in housing assistance for families with children.

Of course, there’s still work to be done.

A new economic package is now under discussion. Minister of the Prime Minister's Office János Lázár recently announced that the government is working on a national demographic program that looks ahead to 2060. It would include even more family support programs to reverse the negative demographic trends.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. While we’re thinking long-term, we know there’s little time to waste. The demographic battle in Europe – and in Hungary – must be fought.