Re-Familisation: Czech Republic Shows the West How to Reverse Fertility Rate Decline

6 mins read
July 15, 2023
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World Bank data shows us that from 2017 to 2020, the number of births per woman—a metric we call the total fertility rate—maintained a level of 1.7. That’s a pretty consistent figure right there.

But wait, there’s more! Roll the clock back to 1999, and we were staring at a fertility abyss, bottoming out at a hair-raising 1.13 children per woman. Fast forward to 2021, and you’ve got an ex-Soviet phoenix rising from the ashes, clocking in at an impressive 1.83 kiddos. That isn’t just a rebound; it’s a meteoric ascent, boasting a staggering 60% leap! Meanwhile, our Western European neighbours are grappling with a demographic slide and Eastern bloc counterparts like Hungary are hovering in the 1.5 to 1.6 zone.

So, why this increase? It combines several factors, and the country’s “re-familisation” efforts play a significant role. These efforts aim to put the brakes on the declining population, especially by boosting fertility. Essentially, they’re about ensuring parents get the support they need – think flexible and well-compensated parental leave during the first three or four years of a junior’s life.

These redistributive welfare policies don’t stop at helping the new mamas and papas. They also work toward achieving better social stability and, importantly, tearing down those pesky barriers causing economic inequalities.

The historical context of the fertility rate in the Czech Republic and the move toward re-familisation.

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A few things had a hand in the declining population of this Central European country. The birth rate dropped from 1994 to 2002, and fertility rates stayed low from 1995 to 2005. Then, add in the fact that folks started putting off starting families or chose to remain child-free. Couple that with the rise in modern contraception use, and you’ve got some severe factors at play.

Let’s not forget the increasing infertility issue affecting one in five couples and the growing senior population. Talk about a recipe for a population drop!

The Czech Republic’s past also had its say in shaping family policies. Picture this – after the fall of Communism, Czech women found themselves with many more job opportunities, much like their counterparts in Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. But here’s the thing, even as women started to fill up the job market, they were still juggling household and family duties. So, post-1989, the Czech family policies began to shift toward re-familisation.

Adéla Souralová wrote in the Journal of European Social Policy about how pre-1989, Czech women had reasonable employment rates and double-income households but still earned less than men. They also had to manage the home, look after the kids, and do their jobs. And while some benefits were in place to help balance work and life, it wasn’t enough.

As more women entered the workforce, childcare facilities like preschools started cropping up. But with criticism of these places, the need to boost fertility, and arguments against women working, talk shifted to paid leave. That led to family policies focused on increasing birth rates. Maternity leave got extended, but this led to fewer kids in nurseries and a gap in childcare that usually ended up being filled by grandmas.

So, why the re-familisation family policy? The Czech family policy is about supporting families in housing, education, and healthcare. But here’s the thing: each family’s unique and makes its own choices. So, the family policy is more about helping a family do its thing without stepping on its toes.

The aim is to create a family-friendly environment in the Czech Republic. Some goals include making society more accommodating for families, giving a hand to families with special needs, encouraging more marriages and births, fostering a sense of family values, and bettering socio-economic conditions for families.

Beyond those goals, the family policy also wants to build social cohesion and make people feel good about their future and place.

An upgrade of this re-familisation policy concept launched in September 2017 promotes family development at a regional level. It’s built on three principles – freedom of choice, a child’s well-being, and strengthening ties between generations. And so, really, the focus is on what’s best for each unique family and the country’s future.

Key elements of the Czech re-familisation family policy.

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In 2016, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, or MLSA for short, joined forces with the Expert Committee for Family Policy. Together, they rolled out a fresh approach to the Czech family policy, introducing 24 reform measures. The idea? To tackle folks’ worries about their living standards dipping when they start a family or care for elderly loved ones. Also, to strengthen Czech society. Simple.

These 24 measures are split into five main areas:

  1. Improving public services in the Czech Republic, particularly in the weaker areas. We’re discussing better childcare facilities, affordable housing for families with kiddos or older adults.
  2. Helping workers with children balance work and family life. It’s also about narrowing the gender pay gap and offering financial aid to bosses who let their workers with young kids flex their work patterns.
  3. Financial help for families with kids. This includes tax policy tweaks, more maternity and paternity benefits flexibility, and a leg up for children from disadvantaged families.
  4. Driven by an ageing population and a growing number of folks needing long-term care, aims to offer better financial rewards for carers and help them get a better foothold in the job market.
  5. Giving people a choice in their reproductive lives. That means making assisted reproduction and contraception services more affordable.

Fast forward to 2022, and the Czech social and family policy needed some tweaks because of the coronavirus pandemic. The revised policy focuses on protecting the vulnerable, with the family unit and its stability at its core. According to the approved Policy Statement of the Government of the Czech Republic, the government will:

  • Back flexible working hours for parents.
  • Help working people balance work and family, giving them more time with their loved ones.
  • Simplify the social benefits system so families can raise kids and care for loved ones without fearing a drop in their living standards.
  • Make the Labour Code more flexible, benefiting both employers and employees.
  • Offer a broader range of services for children and take steps to improve the quality and availability of these services.
  • Support measures that allow for more flexible care distribution in the family and provide grandparents with a parental allowance.

And so, really, these measures are about giving Czech families the support they need in an ever-changing world.

Implementation and outcomes of the Czech re-familisation family policy.

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Photo by Vlad Kiselov / Unsplash

In the Czech Republic, local care systems have significantly influenced changes in family policies and childcare organizations since it became a post-communist country. According to Souralová, a ‘gendered care contract’ exists between mothers and grandmothers, forming a critical part of intergenerational solidarity. These contracts are endogamous, operating, and distributed within a family’s network.

This gendered contract, which existed since the country’s Communist past, underwent considerable transformations with the fall of Communism. Adjustments in family policies post-1989 intensely focused on social policies, inadvertently intensifying gender role separations.

The 1990s witnessed a shift in perception of the family and home as integral to women’s identity, impacting their participation in the labour market. Mothers depended on grandparents, particularly Grandma, for home and childcare, enabling women to balance work and family life. The involvement level of grandparents varied based on the child’s age and family arrangement.

This local care loop structure underscores mothers’ and grandmothers’ critical roles in influencing social policies and cultural ideas around childcare.

Bartusek Nikola also supports the idea that Czechia maintained its gender roles, with mothers as caregivers and fathers as breadwinners. Due to the stark gender inequalities in the labour market, measures supporting changing family needs were introduced.

The Czech Republic supports families through its family policy, divided into three pillars:

  • Monetary transfers (family or child allowance)
  • Tax benefits (tax relief)
  • Benefits in kind (establishing nursery schools)

The 2020 Family Report underlines further changes in Czech families, driven by social, economic development and long-term demographic trends. It highlighted the need for a more inclusive family policy focusing on work-life balance, housing accessibility, and financial support.

The report also showed increasing marriages and births and declining divorce rates over the last five years. The Czech economy also observed a rise in household incomes, helping families manage finances better. However, many families face the risk of income poverty or financial instability.

Lastly, the country’s fertility rate increased, especially among women in their thirties, compared to low-fertility countries like Spain, Italy, and Malta. The fertility rate in the Czech Republic aligns with average levels in EU countries like Austria and Germany.

Wrapping things up

Absolutely, it’s clear that the Czech Republic has made significant strides in reversing the trend of population decline by implementing comprehensive re-familisation policies. These policies promote higher fertility rates and create a supportive environment for families to thrive. Re-familisation policies have been centred around improving public services, including the availability and quality of childcare facilities and affordable housing for families.

They also aim to create a better balance between work and family life by addressing the gender pay gap and providing financial support to employers who offer flexible work schedules for employees with young children. Additionally, they target financial support for families with children, focusing on areas like tax policies and improved flexibility in parental benefits.

They also aim to provide better financial rewards for care and improve carers’ position in the labour market. Another critical aspect of these policies is allowing individuals to have a free choice regarding their reproduction patterns. It includes measures for improved affordability of assisted reproduction services and making contraceptive services more financially accessible.

These policies have led to an upward trend in the country’s fertility rate, even marking the highest fertility rates in Europe in 2021. Considering the economic, social, and demographic changes the Czech Republic has undergone since becoming a post-Communist country, it’s a significant achievement. However, as with any public policy, continuous assessment and adjustment are necessary to ensure the policy remains effective and adaptable to the population’s changing needs. As such, the Czech Republic must continue to monitor the implementation and results of its re-familisation policies and make necessary changes to ensure they continue to support families and encourage population growth effectively.

Edit: Expanded the timeline of the fertility rate increase.

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