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Updated: April 26, 2013 16:17 IST

Dole for parenthood

Bindu Shajan Perappadan
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Incentives: To involve the family. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
The Hindu
Incentives: To involve the family. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Generous parental assistance can change birth statistics

While the National Commission for Women (NCW) in India has long been advocating for more generous parental benefits (leave with pay, job security and health care cover) for women working in the private sector taking a career break for childbirth and looking after children, here comes some good news from Sweden advocating yet another benefit of generous parental assistance by its government.

At a time when fertility within the European Union is critically low, Sweden has announced that it has registered a rise in the number of babies being born, despite the economic gloom. Health and social experts attribute the bloom to generous and assured parental benefits.

“Registering one of the highest birth rates in Europe, data released by Statistics Sweden show yet another consecutive increase in the birth rate,” noted Statistics Sweden demographer Lotta Persson. She adds that thought it is commonly believed that in the developed world, the birth rate and economic situation of a country go hand in hand, this, however, does not seem to tell the whole story.

As per research available, Germany — the economic super-power of Europe — has been struggling with a low birth rate for 40 years. Another interesting example was the rise in fertility rates in Iceland following their severe economic recession in 2009. In the case of Iceland, research study showed the rise in birth rate could be attributed to generous parental leave.

Noted Swedish Institute’s media relation manager Sergio Guimaraes: “The kind of services provided for families with small children, along with societal views on parenting and gender roles, seem important parts of this puzzle.”

Information released by the Swedish Institute relates the country’s generous parental benefits to the increased birth rate. “Parental leave is a central part of Swedish family life, making it possible to have children while continuing careers. Leave is paid for 480 days, shared between both parents. It is widely accepted and even encouraged for fathers to take paternity leave. There is even an ‘equality bonus’ paid out to parents who share leave time evenly,” notes Mr. Guimaraes.

Other social services and benefits are interwoven into everyday family life, such as pre-school (day care for ages 1-5 years); public pre-school (drop-in playtime for parents at home with small children), and subsidised parental leave when children are sick. While employers might contribute to parental benefits and services, the vast majority of funds are paid out by the Swedish Social Insurance Administration.

“In India, where we need to do the opposite — reduce birth rates — incentives to stick to a two-child norm and disincentives in case of more than two, just may help to curb population,” say experts.

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