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Society

Greek Crisis Drove Down Birth Rate, Refugees Filling the Gap

December 2, 2018

While more than 8 ½ years of an economic crisis and crushing austerity measures has made moe Greeks forgoing having children, refugees and migrants stuck in the country after the European Union closed its doors to them are making up some of the gap in places where they’ve settled.

In September, the Hellenic Association of Geriatrics and Gerontology, projected that Greece’s population by 2050 will be older and reduced by anything between 800,000 and 2.5 million people, with low birth rates and an exodus leading to a population decline.

In Greece, the association said, the fertility rate – children per couple – is at 1.26 compared to 1.49 in the European Union. Experts say the fertility rate must be at least 2.1 for a population to remain stable.

In a feature report on the phenomenon, The Washington Post went to the northwest town of Kalpaki, population 1,719 where teachers are being startled by how few students they have now. One mother who dropped off her first-grader and watched him take his place, wondered: Where were all the children?

“There were so few of them,” said Vasso Harisiadi, who had attended school in the same town. “I thought the yard would be full of kids.”

The newest class of children at Kalpaki Elementary was, instead, a reflection of Greece’s intensifying demographic troubles, the paper said. For 2018, there were just 13 first-graders.

A few students lived in villages where they were the only kids. A half-dozen other schools in the area had recently shuttered. More and more would-be parents were moving away or holding off on having children — because they were jobless or, like Kalpaki’s first-grade teacher, were making too little to afford it.

“At the moment, I can’t even consider kids,” said the teacher, Maria Bersou, 33, who earns $18,000 a year. “I can’t save money at all.”

The country’s recession has helped produce postwar Greece’s smallest generation. “The kids don’t know we used to be better off,” Sotiria Papigioti, the mother of a first- and a second-grader at Kalpaki told he paper “But when they ask for things, I tell them, ‘We’re not in the position to afford this.’ ”

The fertility rate in Greece had been increasing, hitting 1.5 births per woman in 2008 after the crisis has seen a reversal with the birthrate falling to what it was more than 20 years before, combined with the outflow to make the future bleaker.

In 2009, just before the worst part of the crisis, there were 118,000 births in Greece. The number has since fallen steadily, becoming well eclipsed by the number of deaths. The birth total in 2017, 88,500, was the lowest on record.

Byron Kotzamanis, a demographer at the University of Thessaly, said the recession has permanently reduced the size of the newest Greek generation — and has reduced the pool of parents in years to come. “We’ll have fewer and fewer births in Greece over the next decades,” Kotzamanis said.

Stefanos Chandakas, a gynecologist who founded a nongovernmental organization to help provide prenatal care, said that on one Greek island of 1,000 people, no children were born during at least a three-year span in the middle of the crisis.

“We have pictures from islands — they’ll have big parades, and there is only one child (participating) holding a flag,” Chandakas said.

Kalpaki now has just 70 students in grades 1-6. Of that group, 20 are ethnic Albanians whose parents relocated to Greece mostly in the decades before the crisis. Another 20 children are newly arrived Syrians, whose families are living in a hillside camp while applying for asylum.

“What we see is a shrinking of the local population,” said the principal, Miltos Mastoras. “Without the Syrians, there would be half the number as 20 years ago.”

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 as well in April 2017 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.

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 Times. 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?”

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