ATHENS - Greece’s crushing seven-year-long economic and austerity crisis is taking its toll on the population - by decreasing it through fewer births as women and couples say they can’t take the chance on bringing up children in a country devastated by financial worry.
After repeated pay and pension cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, and worker firings that combined to create record unemployment, deep poverty and rising rates of suicide and homelessness, more Greeks are now giving up on creating families.
The trend was noted by The New York Times in an extensive feature that found the phenomenon causing near-grief over the decisions to not conceive and even a surge in single-child parents asking doctors to destroy their remaining embryos.
“People are saying they can’t afford more than one child, or any at all,” Dr. Minas Mastrominas, a director at Embryogenesis, a large in vitro fertilization center, said as videos of gurgling toddlers played in the waiting room. “After eight years of economic stagnation, they’re giving up on their dreams,” he told The Times.
In 2016, the birth rate was 8.5 per 1,000 people or about 1.3 per household. The death rate was 11.2 per 1,000 people. Greece is putting more people in the ground than in cribs and the trend looks to continue as high anxiety over financial woes has taken precedent over conception and birth.
Some 20 percent of Greek women born in the 1970s are likely to remain childless, a level not seen since WWII, the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital, based in Vienna has found.
Adding to the irony is that fertile young people who’ve left Greece will raise their children in new homes and countries with analysts saying many will probably never return to their homeland where the financial crisis is rolling on despite predictions from the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition that it’s bringing recovery at the same time it’s doubling down on more pension cuts and taxes on low-income families, a key demographic for having children.
Maria Karaklioumi, 43, a political pollster in Athens, decided to forgo children after concluding she would not be able to offer them the stable future her parents had afforded. Her sister has a child, and she said she’s painfully aware that her grandmother already had five grandchildren at her age.
Although she has a good job and Master’s degrees in politics and economics, “There’s too much insecurity,” Karaklioumi told the newspaper. Unemployment among women stands at 27 percent, compared with 20 percent for men.
“I don’t know if I’ll have this job in two months or a year,” she Karaklioumi added. “If you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, how can you plan for the future?”
The low birthrate is also adding pressure on pension and welfare systems, with fewer people working to support more people retiring, further squeezing those in Greece who pay taxes - most do not with tax evasion rampant and unable to be controlled by successive governments.
Greece can’t afford to offer incentives for people to have children as it keeps cutting budgets across the board, including child tax breaks and subsidies for large families.
State-financed child care became means-tested and is hard to get for women seeking work. Greece now has the lowest budget in the European Union for family and child benefits despite vows by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to protect society’s most vulnerable, promises he broke in surrendering to austerity demands by international creditors he swore to reject.
Grandparents have traditionally been the primary source of child care in the south, but Greek austerity policies have reduced pensions so much that the family safety net is unraveling, said Dimitrios Karellas, the General Secretary of the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry in Greece.
“We need to allocate more money to create the services needed for families and children,” Karellas told The Times. “But it’s hard to do amid the crisis,” he said too, although Tsipras has been able to find money to hire unqualified Special Advisors at salaries of 2,000 euros ($2129.70) per month and pack his government with cronies and patronage hires, breaking another pledge.
In Tempi, a verdant region in central Greece, many primary schools and kindergartens have closed since 2012 as parents had fewer children and young Greeks left the country, Xanthi Zisaki, a municipal councilor said.. Kindergarten enrollment has also slumped in Greece..
While migration from small towns is nothing new, “The financial crisis is clearly the problem,” Zisaki said. “There are simply fewer children every year.”
Putting further strain on hopes to increase the population, Greek women who become pregnant find it cuts their chances of finding a job or keeping one, and even those who aren’t say if they’re of an age to have children that companies aren’t interested in many cases.
Anastasia Economopoulou, 42, pushed back her dream of having several children. She was fearful of losing her job as a saleswoman at a retail branding company after managers said they did not want women who would get pregnnt.
She turned to in vitro fertilization treatments at Dr. Mastrominas’s clinic. But her salary slumped by 30 percent as company sales fell, and her husband’s by more, cutting the number of treatments she can afford. “I asked them not to put in many embryos because we can only manage one,” she said.
“As long as Greece has high unemployment, it may be good luck that there’s not a baby boom,” Byron Kotzamanis, a demography professor at the University of Thessaly told The Times.
“If there was,” he added, “We might have more problems right now.”
Said welfare official Karellas: “If we don’t fix this, in 20 years we’ll be a country of old people. “The fact is, it’s a disaster.”