'Baby checks', a striking measure but that does not solve the birth crisis

'Baby checks', a striking measure but that does not solve the birth crisis

The birth rate in Spain is going downhill. 2020 has registered 5.9% fewer births than in the previous year and the pandemic is not the only culpritIt is an inertia that has been dragging on since the birth crisis at the end of the 1980s and which barely rebounded during the first decade of the century. The average number of children per woman in Spain is 1.18. The decline during the ten years has been unstoppable.

In the investiture session as president of the Community of Madrid this Thursday, Isabel Díaz Ayuso has promised encourage birth with financial aid every month for two years for women who meet three very precise conditions: be under 30 years old, have an annual income of less than 30,000 euros and have been registered in Madrid for at least ten years. A total of 14,500 euros will be transferred to them for two years and even before delivery, from the fifth month of pregnancy.

"Any help is welcome because in Spain aid to the family and upbringing are very low compared to other countries," explains Teresa Castro, professor of research on demographic dynamics at the CSIC. "The amount that the Community of Madrid has announced is large but has limitations, which excludes a large population," he adds. Ayuso's announcement would be aimed at some 12,100 women, taking as a reference those under 30 who had a child in the community of Madrid in 2019. Of these, those who do not meet the requirement of living in Madrid for ten years should be discounted. : 39% of women between 15 and 29 years old were not born in this community. If the income requirement were removed, the global population targeted by this measure would be around half a million women.

To Pau Miret, a researcher at the Center for Demographic Studies, the aid seems "very generous" but "the small print" is "dangerous": regarding the age limit "it would be problematic if it increased adolescent fertility", anticipating too much age, a decision that should be in the private sphere, "that people do it when they freely consider that they want to have children." Beyond fertility, there is no reason why having children in your 20s is better than your 30s.

On the other hand, the requirement of ten years of registration seems "problematic": "I do not know if it will be legally possible because it can lead to discrimination, especially for foreigners," he says. "If this measure had been launched from Catalonia or the Basque Country, it would be considered exclusive nationalist," he points out. And finally, because it is aimed at low-income families, receiving 500 euros a month can be considered a "pressure" for women who did not plan to be mothers, to do so because it benefits them financially for two years. In this sense, it is not taking into account that "having children is a vulnerability for the most disadvantaged incomes".

Both experts agree that probably this natalist policy does manage to bring forward the moment of motherhood in a temporary way, although it does not increase the birth rate. The average age in which Madrilenian women decide to have their first child is 32 years old, outside the target population for which this aid has been designed. For it to revert in the birth rate, the economic income should have enough weight to lower that average and that the twenty-somethings consider being mothers. But, according to Castro, "studies have shown that direct economic incentives do not have a very important impact on the fertility rate." Extremadura granted for three years amounts ranging from 500 to 1,400 euros - with greater generosity for families in small towns -, spending 9.4 million euros between 2014 and 2017, but eliminated them in the last year because it failed to promote the birth rate or settle the population in rural areas.

Margarita León, professor of Political Sciences at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​is of the opinion that the measure promoted by Ayuso is "populist" because "this type of proposal attracts attention, electorally they work, but then the limits are so narrow that hardly anyone actually gets in. " Something that contrasts with the speech made by the president of the Community of Madrid, in which she has come to say that "maternity protection will be one of the most important axes of this legislature." In other words, the expert concludes, "you propose a measure that allows you to say that, but then it will not be effective because there are almost no women in those circumstances."

But even if the 'baby check' was aimed at more women, Leon believes, "even then it would not be a decisive policy to promote birth rates. Like the rest of the expert voices consulted for this report, León agrees that the policies "that work" are those that tackle basic problems, such as conciliation or the promotion of "quality" public services.

"The 'baby check' that was in force in Spain between 2007 and 2010 did not have a significant impact on fertility, it is a measure that more influences the birth calendar, advancing or delaying depending on the benefits, but not on the number total number of children that you decide to have, "recalls Teresa Castro. "These natalist measures have a more temporary impact than in the long term," he adds, stressing that they should be sustained over time for them to work. However, Castro warns that the amount of aid announced by Madrid is so high that it does expect a temporary rebound.

For the moment, the available evidence agrees that countries that maintain birth rates higher than those of Spain and are considered benchmarks in Europe, rather than developing explicitly pronatalist policies, such as the so-called 'baby checks', have focused on rather, in structural policies focused on reconciling work and family life, gender equality in terms of co-responsibility in care, facilitating the residential and economic emancipation of young people or guaranteeing universal access to early childhood education. "Family measures such as, for example, an increase in social housing for young people, would promote emancipation and soon after fertility, so that in Madrid it would be as effective or more than this direct aid policy", Pau Miret values.

Those are, in fact, the reasons behind the phenomenon of low fertility in Spain. The fall, which has lasted for decades, is not exclusive to the Spanish case, far from the year 2021, but it is, along with Ukraine and Malta, the one with the least births per woman in Europe and one of the average ages of the year. world's latest first child. To explain it, disposable income does not work and in fact the data analyzed by elDiario.es suggest that there is no direct correlation between this variable and fertility: not necessarily with more money available you have more children, nor the other way around.

But behind the economic context there is a wide range of reasons that do help to explain it: the temporary nature of the labor market (Spain is the champion in Europe and the rate shoots up to 52% among those under 30 years of age) together with the high levels Youth unemployment or difficulties in reconciling work and family life are some of the reasons. Without losing sight of this last factor, care continues to fall fundamentally on women. In addition, the age of emancipation of the young is key. Only seven countries surpass Spain in the European context in terms of the latest age to leave the home of origin. And it is that in Madrid, one of the communities with the greatest difficulties of access to housing for young people, they should allocate 105% of their salary to cover the average rent in the region, of 1,176 euros, as highlighted in 2019 by the Observatory of Emancipation of the Council of the Youth of Spain.

This analysis coincides with the point of view of the perception of the women themselves. According to the 2018 INE Fertility Survey, the economic does not appear until number five on the list of reasons for delaying motherhood among women under 30 years of age. Ahead is health, not feeling prepared, work or conciliation reasons and the lack of a stable relationship. Castro stresses that it is necessary "an umbrella of public measures" to accompany economic incentives, such as promoting stable employment or free schools for children 0-3 years. "That is what works in the Nordic countries, but they do not do it with the objective of increasing fertility but to improve the well-being of the whole society," he emphasizes.

In other autonomous communities, policies are directed more towards alleviating family poverty than towards natalism, with the exception of the Basque Government, which provides aid to all families with dependent children. With the first, a one-time payment is received at birth. With the second, not only at birth but also at the 1st and 2nd birthday. With the third, in addition to being born, every year until reaching 7. The only requirement is to appear on the register of any municipality in the Basque Country at least one year before requesting the aid, or if they have lived for five continuous years in the Basque Country in the previous ten years.

As an example of help for low incomes is Catalunya, which is aimed only at family units that earn less than what is set by the Catalan income sufficiency indicator, which currently stands at 569.12 euros per month. It also imposes a minimum residence time requirement: at least one of the two parents must have legal residence in Catalonia for the last five years, of which two must be uninterrupted and up to the date of application. Also in Andalusia it is a measure against social exclusion and helps in multiple births or from the third child. In other communities, such as Castilla y León or Navarra, the incentive is fiscal and not direct, although the provincial government also distributes aid focused on conciliation, especially to single-parent families.

Information prepared together with the editions of eldiario.es in Catalonia, Euskadi, Castilla y León, Navarra, Murcia and the Basque Country.


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