According to a flash release published yesterday by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH), a total of 85,200 children were born in the country in 2023. This figure is the lowest ever recorded and is below the previous low point of 2011. Despite Hungary’s pro-family policies, the country is facing the same demographic winter crisis seen throughout Europe.
In 2022, the number of births was 88,491, and in 2021 it was 93,039, with the number of births hovering around 90,000 throughout the 2010s. The new figures mean that the total number of births has fallen by more than 8 percent in the last two years — and the number of marriages by an even greater 30 percent.
If the total fertility rate is examined — the average number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime — the picture is slightly more positive, although the trend is still negative: 1.50 last year, 1.52 in 2022 and 1.59 in 2021.
However, even with births at a record low, the actual lowest birthrate was in 2011, which was 1.23. It then rose to a high in 2021, the highest level since the first half of the 1990s before the Bokros-Surányi (Socialist) austerity package. The birth rate was at its lowest in the 1990s.
There is, however, some good news in yesterday’s KSH report. The number of deaths has continued to fall: After 155,621 in 2021 and 136,446 in 2022, 127,200 people died in 2023, and as the number of deaths fell more than births, the natural decrease was 42,000, 12 percent lower than the previous year.
Although the figures are sobering, they must also be put into the European context, where there is a demographic crisis across the entire continent. Not a single country has a 2.1 total fertility rate, and the issue dates back decades.
However, in recent years, the issue has only accelerated. France, once praised for its high birth rate, is also seeing a demographic crash, prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to promise new measures to boost births in the country.
Meanwhile, Italy, with Europe’s lowest birthrate, has Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni saying that the fate of Europe depends on more children being born, even if she has promoted a pro-migration policy as of late.
According to Hungarian writer Sándor Faggyas, “the causes of the demographic decline are manifold, from the European crisis of values and the spread of individualistic lifestyles to economic, livelihood and housing problems, the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, the war in Ukraine since February 2022 and the inadequate responses to it, and the economic crisis and growing insecurity caused by misguided and harmful sanctions. Demographers have long known and said that the most important prerequisite for starting a family and having children is stability, security and predictability.”
He points out that despite Hungary’s falling birth rate, the number of births in Hungary has fallen less than the average in the other EU countries.
“And let’s also consider that the smaller decline than the EU average has come about as the number of women of childbearing age in Hungary has been falling steadily: by a fifth in 10 years,” he writes.
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However, there are dark clouds ahead, as the last major age group, the grandchildren of the so-called “Ratkó children,” which was a demographic wave in the 1970s, is now leaving childbearing age. This means that the negative trend will continue, he argues, which means fewer and fewer women must give birth to more and more children to stop the absolute birth rate from falling.
However, Faggyas argues that the results from the 2022 census show “that this is not impossible.”
“Hungary’s population has decreased by more than 300,000 compared to 2011, but the number of under-15s has not decreased due to the fact that the much smaller number of women of childbearing age gave birth to more children on average between 2011 and 2021.
Faggyas credits both the attitude of Hungarians and the work of the government for the continued bright spots in Hungary’s demographic model, as confirmed by research from the Kopp Maria Institute.
“Marriage and the family are still widely accepted values in our country, and the vast majority of young people, despite appearances and counter-propaganda, still think in terms of a two-child family model,” he writes.
“The other main reason is the Hungarian family support system, which has been built up since the change of government in 2010, has expanded and improved every year, and is unique in Europe, with the government already spending 4 percent of GDP on it.”