The birth rate in Finland decreased by one quarter in the 2010s, and Finnish population structure is among the oldest in the world. With this in mind, a project launched by Prime Minister Sanna Marin aimed to examine reasons for the current demographic situation and to present guidelines for securing sustainable demographic development.
The report shows that Finland’s demographic development in the 2010s diverged from that of the other Nordic countries in many ways. Finland saw the slowest rate of population growth in the Nordic countries, and the total fertility rate decreased to less than 1.4 children per woman on average. "Finland’s population would shrink without immigration," the government emphasized in its evaluation of the report.
"More net immigration will also be necessary to maintain a stable population in the future. The net immigration rate in Finland is currently 16,000 people A potential target could be to raise net immigration to 25,000 persons by 2030," the report concludes.
The sharp decline in the birth rate weakens the financial basis for of general government finances and leads to increased social inequality.
“That said, the Covid-19 pandemic may have improved Finland’s demographic room for manoeuvre: so far, the decline in the birth rate seems to have ceased, net immigration is on the rise and internal migration has stabilised. Now would be a good time to set new demographic targets,” says principal investigator Anna Rotkirch.
The report, entitled ‘Recovery of the birth rate and longer life expectancy: Guidelines for population policy in the 2020s’, was published on Wednesday 10 March. Research Professor Anna Rotkirch from the Family Federation of Finland was the principal investigator in the project and the author. The project was supported by the government and by an independent scientific panel on population policy. The government will use the report when preparing for its mid-term policy review session.
Family formation as a challenge
Finland can promote balanced demographic development by supporting wellbeing, family-friendliness and human resources throughout the course of life. "Growth in immigration or birth rates, increased levels of education and productivity and healthier ageing will not be enough to meet the challenges on their own; instead, we need a comprehensive approach that takes into account all of these elements," the government says.
Rotkirch stresses that sexual and reproductive rights are a cornerstone of socially and ecologically sustainable development. "We could mitigate global population growth faster if all women were able to have the number of children they wanted. In low birth rate countries such as Finland, this would mean a recovery of the birth rate," the report says.
Around three quarters of the decline in the birth rate observed in Finland in the 2010s was due to the fact that fewer infants were born here. The already high rate of childlessness in Finland has increased rapidly since 2010. Childbearing has also become polarised, with childlessness increasing especially among women and men with lower levels of education. Shrinking family networks mean an increase in loneliness and the need for mental health support over the course of life.
Perceived uncertainty is the most important broader reason for postponing or putting off having children. Perceived uncertainty means people’s concerns about their employment and ability to get by financially, but also uncertainty about the future, their wellbeing or their relationship.
"International experience shows that it is possible to influence the development of birth rates by promoting a positive atmosphere for infants, children and families and through carefully targeted campaigns. The general atmosphere and the local community have also been shown to have an impact on the birth rate," the report says.
“Happiness, social trust and support for childcare are effective means to promote the recovery of birth rates in low birth rate countries,” says Rotkirch.
“Campaigns and incentives related to childbearing and guarantees for families are justified at a time when the birth rate is at a turning point due to the prolonged decline and the pandemic.”
Children – of course! is a child-friendly policy proposed by the report that supports people’s wishes for the number of children they want to have. Child-friendliness is not limited to a person’s own children; it can be realised in a variety of ways and in different types of families. Children – of course! is a message from society that every child is welcome and that society will invest in everyone.
According to the report, "the shrinking proportion of families with children in the population must not mean that fewer resources are allocated to them. The goal should be to restore the birth rate to 1.6 in the short term and 1.8 in the longer term, which corresponds to the desired number of children among Finns. Raising children is also an important contribution to the national economy."
The report also concludes that it no longer makes sense to set 65 years as the upper limit for employment policies, rehabilitation or life-long learning. Despite healthier ageing, the elderly population’s need for services in their final years of life will increase many times over within the next twenty years. Raising the employment rate and productivity is the most effective single means to alleviate the economic challenges facing the ageing population.