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Society

The Graying of Greece: Birth Rate Falling, Too Expensive to Have Children

There are more coffins than cribs in Greece, which has an incredible shrinking population despite financial incentives being given by the New Democracy government for couples to have children: they say they can’t afford them.

Those like Army Sgt. Christos Giannakidis who said there were plans for a second child when Greece’s 2010-18 economic and austerity crisis struck, whacking workers, pensioners, and the poor, along with young couples.

“To have a family these days, you need to become a hero,” Giannakidis told Reuters as the news agency featured Greece’s struggles to get the population to grow again, the aging bringing a strain on social security too.

In 2022, Greece had its lowest number of births in 92 years, data showed, the aftermath of the financial crisis that burned people with the worry of the cost of raising children, from diapers to soccer shoes, food, and more.

Preliminary unofficial data indicate another drop in 2023 and the country’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in Europe, some villages not recording any births for years, and much of the population over 70 in many of them.

The government is planning in May to unveil new measures to boost birthrates, officials told Reuters, the scheme said to include cash benefits for families, affordable housing for young people, financial incentives for assisted reproduction, and incorporating migrants into the workforce.

Similar programs in other European Union countries failed to counter the phenomenon of aging and Greece – growing again and its economy outperforming even one of its key lenders, Germany – hasn’t been able to succeed either.

“If I were to tell you that any given minister at any given ministry … can reverse the trend, it would be a lie,” Sofia Zacharaki, Greece’s Minister for Social cohesion and family affairs, told the news agency. Still, she said, “We need to keep trying.”

In Giannakidis’ village of Ormenio and the wider Orestiada municipality in a far-flung area of the country with few resources for the public or families, the population is still shrinking, falling 16 percent between 2011-21, said census data.

“We used to gather at weddings, at baptisms. Now we meet at funerals,” said 61-year-old Chrysoula Ioannidou. “There are very few births.”

Finance Minister Kostis Hatzidakis admitted that the dropping birth rate is worrying. “This is one of the most serious problems we face not only in Greece but in the EU as a whole. It is our priority … whatever it takes,” he said.

The nearest primary school to Ormenio, which serves 17 villages, is thinning out. The whole first grade has four children and in 2025 there will be none, headmaster Dimitris Rossidis said. “The future doesn’t look bright,” he said.

First grade teacher Nektaria Mouropoulou said she wants a family but earns only 1,000 euros ($1,066) a month, a third of which goes to renting a tiny flat. She crosses into Turkey to buy cheaper gasoline, and her mother helps with bills.

“When you’re in your 30s and earning 1,000 euros, of course you’ll think whether to have a family,” she said, adding that politicians were missing the point. “That they’ll give 20 euros for the first child, or 50 or 100, doesn’t solve the problem,” she said.

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