The Eclectic Announcements Intended to Lift the Birth Rate

31/05/2024

Demography: The eclectic announcements intended to lift the birth rate

The French President attempted in early May to detail his plan, announced in January, to lift the birth rate through two important measures whose methods are highly controversial: a plan to combat infertility and a new post-natal leave allowance.

The fall in birth rate has persisted for 10 years

The fertility rate, i.e. the number of children per woman has fallen from 2.0 to 1.68 over a ten-year period, bearing in mind that the rate of renewal for generations is 2.1. From 811,000 births in 2013, the figure has dropped to 678,000 in 2023.

The persistent fall in birth rate has at last alerted the public authorities. The reasons for this reduction are complex. The National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) or organisations such as the National Union of Family Associations (UNAF) regularly conduct studies on demographic evolutions in order to detect their causes. The results are summarised in an Expert Notam released by Alliance VITA in December 2023: Analysis of birth rate variations in France.

Procreation standards have led to mothers having children at an ever later age, the deterioration of material conditions and of family policies, with in particular the crucial matter of the availability of childcare facilities are also crucial challenges. These are currently additional to social phenomena such as eco anxiety, the difficulties involved in durable commitments or even the evolutions of parental requirements and injunctions.

The fight against infertility as a means for a “demographic reset”?

In a burst of confusion of genders, President Emmanuel Macron appears to have linked infertility and the fall in birth rate to two proposals, which have been criticised by the experts.

  • The establishment of a fertility check-up at around 20 years of age available to all and fully funded by social security. This is a nonsense according to the president of the national college of obstetric gynaecologists (CNGOF): “A check on the ovarian reserves of the general population who have not yet had any children is of no value for prediction purposes”. On the contrary it could be a source of anxiety and cause panic in young women for no reason.
  • The opening of lucrative private centres for the self-preservation of oocytes goes against the fundamental principle in bioethics for non-commercialising of the human body.

The freezing of oocytes for no medical reason but for the hypothetical purpose of having children later, was the subject of strong controversy during the last bioethical law revision. Although it is authorised for women between 29 and 37 years of age who have not yet had children, this procedure is far from being an insurance for future maternity (20% success rate) and involves secondary risks in some cases.

According to Agnès Buzyn, the ex-health minister, when interviewed by Le Figaro, “The answer to the fall in birth rate cannot lie in the extreme medicalization of couples”.

The working group set up following the adoption of the bioethics law in 2021 to elaborate a plan to combat infertility stressed in its report issued in 2022 that the major cause for medical appointments associated with infertility was essentially social. It is linked to the delaying of the maternity age which is currently established at an average of 31 years. The authors issued a warning about the limits of medically assisted procreation (ART).” It has to be understood that almost half of the couples who resort to ART techniques will not achieve a child at the end of the procedure.”

The report highlights the social factors involved in the delaying of maternity: The extension of the duration of studies, advancement in female employment, general availability of contraception and abortion, the difficult question of choices – job, partner, environment – reconciliation of work and family life, professional and affective stability. “Women wait to find their partner (…)  with whom to conceive a child, and must also wait for their partner to be ready to commit himself.

Other factors are environmental and concern their way of life: exposure to endocrine disruptors, tobacco, drugs, obesity etc. other more specific reasons identified require further research (endometriosis, azoospermia etc.)

It goes without saying that the “solutions” put forward by President Macron are out of touch. During the revision of the bioethics law, Alliance VITA made several proposals, in particular to provide better information on fertility through campaigns aimed at young people. Moreover, instead of proposing devices such as the preservation of oocytes, it is better to improve living and working conditions so that couples can procreate at a younger age as recommended by the CCNE (National Consultative Ethics Committee) and the Biomedicine Agency orientation committee.

Is a shortened and better paid post-natal leave really appropriate?

The government proposal is also to shorten the duration of post-natal leave to 6 months (versus 3 years currently) split into 3 months for each parent. It would be better paid than the current parental allowance. The allowance would be 50% of salary up to the social security ceiling of 1,900 euros.

Currently mothers are given 16 weeks paid maternity leave which increases to 26 weeks from the 3rd child and fathers are also given 28 days paid leave. The parental leave is additional to these as would be the post-natal leave: it is paid at 448 euros and lasts up to two and a half years for one of the parents and six months for the other.

The national union of family associations is pleading for coexistence of the two systems. Because being unable to stay longer raising their children, if they so wish, mothers would have to give up their jobs to remain beyond the 3 months.

In view of the urgency to put back humanity at the centre of public policies, Alliance VITA has put forward 10 ideas to promote an ecosystem for a lasting family, some of which aim to solidify the conditions for having and raising children. Reinforcement of the family policy through general support for couples should be a political priority to support demography.

Further reading:

The Alliance VITA proposals to combat infertility

The urgency to promote an ecosystem for a lasting family

VITA Expert Notam : Analysis of fertility variations in France

 

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