Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Should we follow Sweden?

Ross Gittins has a rather hysterical piece in today's Age newspaper, titled "How men stuff up women's lives". It's yet another attempt to convince us that the only way to improve fertility rates is to have children raised in professional childcare while Mum is at work.

As you might expect, Gittins points to the Scandinavian countries as role models. He claims that by the early 80s the fertility of European countries had fallen and that only those countries which adopted the childcare/mother at work model, like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and France, experienced no further decline in fertility.

But this is a strange argument. Sweden has poured huge resources into a statist model of raising children and its number of births has fallen from 123,938 in 1990 to only 99,157 in 2003. In fact, both 2000 and 2001 were disaster years for Swedish fertility, when deaths actually outnumbered births. Sweden's total fertility rate is an abysmal 9.71 births per 1000 compared to Australia's 12.55.

Even in Norway, the Scandinavian country with the healthiest fertility situation, the fertility rate has fallen from 1.98 in 1990 to 1.79 in 2003 (a fall from 60,939 live births to 56,458).

Furthermore, Gittins neglects to mention other undesirable consequences of the Scandinavian model, such as high divorce rates (well over 50% in Sweden), low marriage rates, high taxation, and authoritarian child welfare agencies.

In fact, the only way that Gittins can make the Scandinavian model seem attractive is by comparing it to the worst performing of European countries, such as Spain and Italy. If instead he compared it to the best performing of Western nations such as Ireland with 14.63 lives births per 1000, or the US with 14.14 or New Zealand with 14.14 the Scandinavian situation would seem more a failure than a success.

(For more information on this subject see "Is Sweden No.1?")

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