Edelmira Barreira Diz has a big task ahead of her: As of earlier this year, it is now her job to get Spaniards to have more sex.
In late January, Barreira was hired as a special commissioner in Spain’s government to reverse the trend of falling fertility rates in the country. According to CIA data, women have an average of just 1.49 children, well below the replacement fertility rate of 2.2 kids, which demographers say keeps a population steady.
As a result, in 2015 Spain had its first year in decades in which deaths outnumbered births.
Low fertility rates can be both a symptom and cause of larger economic woes. On the one hand, if people aren’t reproducing, there are fewer people alive to keep the economy healthy through spending. On the other, low fertility rates can indicate the economy is already weak, and that people don’t feel like they have the means to start families.
Barreira, for her part, acknowledged to Spanish press in late February that “it isn’t going to be possible to solve the problem overnight.” The case in her country is unique in that women in Spain wait longer than most women in Europe to have kids — the average age is over 30 — and that Spaniards live longer, on average, than any other country residents in the European Union.
Over the next several months it will be Barreira’s job to produce a “clear diagnosis” of the problem, according to the Spanish newspaper Faro De Vigo. Already, the unemployment rate stands out as a clear sign the country needs a kickstart, Barreira said. Nearly half of all young people in Spain are jobless.
Similar to how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has had to address demographic challenges in his home country of Japan, which has young people abandoning their elders outside hospitals because in-home care is too expensive, Barreira will look to develop solutions of her own.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Barreira told Faro De Vigo.
She hasn’t yet revealed specific plans to combat falling fertility in the face of widespread ageing, but other countries may offer some creative ideas.
In Japan, Abe has launched speed dating events and fatherhood classes to get men interested in family life. (Although some scholars argue the real solution involves much more government intervention to change Japan’s work-heavy culture.)
In Denmark, TV ads told viewers to “Do it for Denmark.” In Singapore, where fertility rates are the lowest in the world, the government held an event in 2012, sponsored by Mentos, that not-so-subtly encouraged people to “let their patriotism explode.”
And in Russia, September 12 has been the official Day of Conception since 2007. Women who give birth nine months later, on June 12, win a free refrigerator.
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