Children and adults at a family cafe organised by the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare in Espoo, Southern Finland, on 8 May 2024. Statistics Finland in May reported that the number of children in the country fell below the one-million mark for the first time on record in 2023, dropping from about 1,003,100 to 992,500. (Roni Rekomaa – Str / Lehtikuva)

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FINLAND is home to fewer than one million children for the first time ever, reveal statistics published in May by Statistics Finland.

Statistics Finland on 31 May reported that the country had a total of 550,183 families with children in 2023, representing a drop of 1,851 from the previous year. Such families comprised altogether 2,028,458 individuals, including 992,502 under 18-year-olds – a drop of 10,592 from the previous year.

Venla Berg, a senior researcher at the Population Research Institute, called for action on a broad basis to tackle the a sharply declining birth rate in an interview with YLE on Saturday. She estimated that policy makers do not appear to understand the gravity of the situation judging by the their inclination to prioritise the economy and security ahead of the birth rate.

The decline in birth rate, she reminded, will have ramifications for all citizens, regardless of whether they want children of their own.

“This is happening way to fast here. We should at least be trying to slow down the birth rate’s decline,” she stressed to the public broadcasting company. “After the climate crisis, this is in my view the biggest thing that decision makers should be focusing on.”

Although the Finnish population has continued to grow steadily as a consequence of immigration, the population structure is shifting in a way that the elderly will soon comfortably outnumber the number of prime-age people. The shift is already casting doubt over the future of public services, eradicating rural communities – many of which are major food producers – and increasing loneliness by punching holes in the social networks of families with children.

Localities faced with sharp drops in the number of children are running into financial difficulties, forcing them to slash services and drive out families with children.

“The number of children can fall by as much as 30–50 per cent in a short time period, ultimately leading to no one living in the area,” warned Berg.

The possible solutions are hardly straightforward due to the sundry factors behind the development. Some have argued that measures to reverse the development are unlikely to succeed, viewing that the focus should instead be on adaptation – an echo of the debate about the climate crisis.

Berg on Saturday called for a change not only from decision makers, but also in education, corporate values and public attitudes.

Decision makers, she outlined, should invest more in children, young people, families and education to prevent problems and foster a generation of people with the capacity to shoulder their responsibility for society. In schools, sex education should focus not only on contraception but also on the effects of age on fertility. Employers should introduce measures that convey the message that children are always welcome.

Families themselves, in turn, should recognise that it really takes a village to raise a child.

“The dominant thinking here is that you have to have the capacity to take care of your own children. Instead we could all be lending a hand to others,” commented Berg.

She also reminded that an overwhelming majority of people with children are happy. “Children produce a tremendous amount of joy and meaning in life.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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