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Past and Recent Population Policy

Population policy could be conceived independently or as part of social policy or even as a part of the whole policy of the state. One can speak also about related family policy, migration policy, health policy etc. The criterion of every policy is its target. In this sense the population policy we can speak about population policy only in developed countries and even there it is usually related to policy of the overall development. On the other side many of social policy measures have direct or indirect effects on population development. The targets of population policy have been never directly expressed in the Czech Republic although problems with the demographic ageing and age structure disturbances are discussed among specialists and policy makers. The similar situation exists in the field of migration policy where the setting of targets is more appropriate.

Population policy

Population policy means either direct intervention in the population development by adopting and implementing targeted measures or, more often, by creating conditions of such population development which corresponds with the long-term intention of a state. As a rule, this involves measures influencing natality and indirectly also nuptiality, but it also includes migration policy (foreign migration).

The population policy is either antinatalist, designed to curb high fertility, preventing high fertility and thus hampering a rapid growth in the population number, or pronatalist, which involves the intention of maintaining a favourable development of fertility or, in the case of a negative situation, it wants to achieve its reversal. The former type of population policy is used in many developing countries, the latter appears in European populations with low fertility, which involves decrease in the population number through population change (numbers of deaths exceed the number of live-born children). Most European countries do not have any population policy as they evidently do not feel its need.

Pronatalist policy in advanced countries if formulated and adopted is not devised to simply increase the number of newborn children, to halt or slow down the population decrease. Such a policy can only by justified by the creation of such age structure of the population which would lead to a long-term, acceptable maintenance of bearable proportions between age groups in a population. At the same time, such a policy is designed to create a regular age structure without any major irregularities, which means the prevention of major disturbances inherited from the time of the reproduction of a previous generation (this means 20-30 years ago the creation of a secondary demographic irregularity) or caused by sudden changes in fertility. All existing irregularities of age structure have a disturbing impact on many features of social as well as economic development, causing excessive social costs.

Pronatalist population policy is more advantageous if it is formulated, adopted and implemented independently, with an obvious objective of its own. If it is part of a broadly conceived social policy, it can create its obvious segment. The definition of a possible family policy is much broader, too, as it relates to the whole sphere of family life, including relationships between the spouses themselves, and between spouses and children, education and socialisation of children, stability of family as well as the divorce rate, including all features of material existence of a family.

Although a specific population policy, adopted by a certain country, has a clearly defined objective and used instruments (measures), its results cannot be "checked" or exactly quantified. The population atmosphere in which a certain population policy is implemented is composed of many, often contradictory, factors with a simultaneous impact: the achieved living standards and its trends, the housing situation and policy, the unemployment of young people and its structure, traditions transferred from previous generations, including influences of religious feeling, and moral state of society. All these and other factors create a certain social conscience, which includes the population atmosphere, and within its impact family and children acquire an apparent social value. In the emerged population atmosphere the family size (number of children) is planned and real fertility materialises. A special role is played by extramarital fertility whose importance is growing as legitimate family links are being replaced with consensual unions.

Pronatalist population policy is therefore defined as a way of creating such favourable conditions for young single people in which they could enter marriage at the corresponding age and could have such number of children which they desire (the main principle of planned parenthood). However, this vital decision-making about the number of children in family should be free, while the barriers in the form of current living standards of the young couple, its housing situation, conditions of care for children, etc., should be limited. This approach does not involve any "social engineering" in which the state intervenes in the family for the sake of variously conceived objectives and forces the spouses (parents) to "behave" in their reproduction according to some national needs. On the one hand, family must remain an autonomous unit, but on the other children, their number, care for them and upbringing in specific social conditions cannot be considered just as a private affair of the parents and part of their responsibility. Some demographers believe that the authorities should show evident interest in family and conditions of its existence without interfering in it or relieving the parents of children of primary responsibility.

Pronatalist population policy cannot be only conceived in quantitative terms, from the viewpoint of the number of children in family, fertility and natality or the proportion of children in a population. It must also be reviewed in qualitative terms, as regards the health of children and conditions in which they are brought up and are prepared to become full-fledged members of society. This is why pronatalist population policy cannot prefer the existence of families with a high number of children (five and more), because, given the rising needs, the family can only exceptionally provide adequate care for them and their upbringing.

In the whole of the postwar period Czechoslovakia applied an active pronatalist policy. Although it was not formulated and accepted as any national doctrine, it was implemented within the framework of social policy. It was motivated ideologically (a rapid population growth as a sign of dynamic development of socialist society), by the lowered population density and lack of population in the Czech borderland, and a constant pressure on increasing the number of the working population (high needs in the forecasts of economic development).

Most of the implemented and gradually broadening measures were designed to facilitate the role of working women, mothers of small children (the former Czechoslovakia came second after East Germany in the employment of women in Europe). An explicit pronatalist role was only played by child benefits, which were paid according to the number of children in a family: in 1957-1959 the highest child benefit was paid for the fifth and every consecutive children; in 1968-1972 for the third and fourth children; and later for the third child with a consecutive decrease for any further child.

Life conditions of families with children were significantly improved after 1970, when the benefit at the birth of a child was increased, the maternity grant was broadened to include women with children under two years (it was paid after 26 weeks of maternity leave), child benefits were increased and new loans for the newlywed were introduced for the purchase of a flat and its furnishings (while the double the sum was pardoned if the second and additional children were born).

The adoption of these measures was already planned in the mid-1960s, but they were only implemented especially for the sake of calming the political situation at the time in the less suitable time with the impact of a secondary demographic wave (populous generations born after 1945). Thanks to this and also due to the influence of a "return into private life" of hundreds of thousands of people politically persecuted after the Warsaw Pact invasion, the numbers of newborn children surged for several years. Due to a simultaneous effect of positive external influences, there was both a compensatory and anticipatory population boom and a favourable population atmosphere was created for some years. In the course of next years the effect of the adopted measures "evaporated" and new generations of young women took them for granted. When this demographic boom was created, the system of two children in family was strengthened, while the number of third babies increased as well. The set of adopted measures was not conceived as pronatalist, but it had this impact.

The previous, relatively positive conditions of slowing down the decline in natality and fertility radically altered after 1990. The living standards of families with children fell more than in other population groups (the impact of correct elimination of subsidies on food and children´s goods), loans for the newlywed were cancelled, the previous granting of child benefits according to the number of children in family (the lowest for the first, the highest for the third child) was changed into a differentiation according to the child´s age (taking into consideration increased costs for older children). Child benefits were no longer automatically paid for all children and were defined according to the income of parents (in relation to the calculated subsistence level). As the untaxable sum for every child when income tax was calculated was the same, they thus lost the character of a general pronatalist allowance, becoming a contribution to lower-income families, designed to prevent the family´s fall into the zone of poverty if there are more children.

The creation of unfavourable population atmosphere was also fuelled by worsened conditions for young couples when they seek flats as well as by rising unemployment of young people. Along with more opportunities provided to young people this led to the postponed age at marriage and subsequently childbearing was put off to a higher age as well. There was a very negative impact of the fact that according to the informal attitude of many members of the former cabinet children, their number, care for them and upbringing, was a private affair of parents in which the state should not intervene in any way. The excessive emphasis on solely personal responsibility of the parents accompanied with rejection of the responsibility of the state sent a message to the young generation that families with children can only rely on a minimum social certainty, coupled with a negligible interest of the authorities in their life conditions. The long-term obligation of parents´ responsibility for children is not accompanied by any corresponding obligation of the state to continually help families with children. Young people have started to behave pragmatically they postpone the marriage and birth of children, partly certainly awaiting more favourable conditions for childbearing.

Some demographers believe that this situation lacks the adoption of an obvious pronatalist policy which would have an effect at least in the cases when the parents are to decide about the birth of the second child. At present conditions are not suitable for this as they can only emerge at the time of economic growth. It will be very difficult to reverse the unfavourable population atmosphere and we will have to put up with the fact that the Czech Republic will be among the countries with the lowest fertility. This will, in turn, speed up demographic ageing.

As no migration policy has been formulated either and a population increase through international migration has remained low, we have to reckon on a constant population decrease. Worse still, we will see a significant deformation of the age structure of the population. Its negative impact will be borne by further generations (this implies not only the pension insurance). Some demographers are of the opinion that the underestimation of the absence of a pronatalist policy will have an adverse effect on the life of the whole society during the next ten to twenty years.



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