On 1 October 2011 during the latest census, there were 9.982 million people living in Hungary, a decline of 200,000-plus from the previous headcount in 2001. Between 1991 and 2001 the population decline was 176,000.
Based on the 2011 census preliminary data released by the Central Statistical Office this week, the number of Hungarians went below the 10 million mark for the first time since the 1960s, when the “Ratkó babies” were turning around the population decline that followed the Second World War.
In the early 1950s minister of health Anna Ratkó introduced legislation for a tax on childless families and banning abortion. The new law also tried to enhance willingness to have children by offering better working conditions and other financial incentives for pregnant women.
The measures produced a three-decade increase in the number of Hungarians from 9.2 million to 10.71 million by 1980. As the end of communism neared, the trend reversed. In every year since 1981 there have been more deaths than births, and the number of Hungarians would be even lower if the trend had not been countered to some extent by repatriation in the past two decades and an increase in life expectancy.
Few care for kids
Despite governmental efforts aimed at boosting the number of babies – such as much stricter rules for the dismissal of pregnant women and mothers returning to work, and the baby account or “szocpol” financial incentive (with a starting sum of HUF 45,000 or EUR 160) for home purchases increasing parallel with the number of children – the future does not look promising.
A 2009 demographic study revealed that just before the 1989 fall of communism 13 per cent of those surveyed said that having three children is a bad decision. This increased to 21 per cent in
Not tying the knot
1997 and to 25 per cent by 2008, with the ratio of those saying that one child is the ideal number going up from 12 per cent (2001) to 17 per cent (2009). Perhaps even more worrisome is the fact that data gathered during the 2011 census suggests that 68.7 per cent of 15- to 39-year-olds are unmarried, a large 13.2 percentage point increase compared to 2001. This could be the sign of an even sharper population decline because while the number of unmarried parents increased somewhat, children are still typically born into married families.
Finding the solution could be worth a medal from the state, especially as the answers of the Ratkó era are most likely unavailable for the governments of the 21st century. Except Malta, no country in the European Union completely bans abortion and the current Hungarian cabinet already has a taste of what the public thinks about taxing childlessness.
In September 2010 former prime minister Péter Boross floated the idea that everyone between the ages of 30 and 60 should pay a tax if they do not have a child. Though the suggestion was welcomed by some associations representing big families, the thought received such heavy criticism from the general public that Boross has never mentioned it since.