Birth rates are falling globally and the world faces a shift from young to old. There is a consequent increase in elderly people in many parts of the world. The most significant reason for this is the decline in global fertility. COVID-19 and urbanisation are also driving birth rates down. Young adults say staggering debt and a lack of affordable housing have also held them back from starting families. Countries such as China, India, Japan, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia are among the countries with low birth rates. African countries still have high birth rates however these numbers are lower than they were in 1960. As a countermeasure, some governments are offering incentives for having babies. China reversed its one-child policy and announced that parents would now be permitted to have up to three children. South Korea has the lowest fertility rate in the world and is now offering a cash bonus of over R25K to encourage its citizens to have children. The country’s birth rate is so low that hundreds of schools have been emptied out and abandoned.
Why is it important?
The number of under-fives will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100 and the number of over 80-year-olds will soar from 141 million in 2017 to 866 million in 2100. While this may be good for the environment as a smaller population would reduce carbon emissions, the disadvantages far outweigh this advantage. This inverted age structure and population shrinkage will create enormous social change and can slow economic growth and strain government budgets.There will be fewer people to work and pay tax, and more elderly people to be taken care of by the state. An older workforce raises the question as to whether people will still be able to retire from work.
What can businesses do about it?
Businesses can foster family-friendly workplaces that support rather than discriminate against workers who have children. They could support more generous maternity leave for new parents. They could also support the flexible working arrangements that many parents seek. Providing quality, affordable child care including after-school arrangements would also assist in not dissuading parents from having children. A poll of more than 2,000 adults in 2021 by Opinium found that 18% of 18- to 34-year-olds had left a job because of parental leave policies. A further 25% had decided not to apply for a job because they thought parental leave policies were inadequate. Dabeinong Group, an agricultural technology company in Beijing, has been heralded as China’s most generous employer for expecting parents. Benefits include up to 90,000 yuan (US$14,100) in cash and additional leave of up to 12 months for new mothers and nine days for fathers.
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By Faeeza Khan
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