Robot Babies, No-Kids Tax, and Other Ways Nations Try to Up the Birth Rate

These countries have gone to extraordinary lengths to coax citizens into doing their patriotic, procreative duty.

russia conception day.jpg
In Russia, couples can win prizes for delivering babies nine months after the nationwide Day of Conception on Sept. 12. This family won a car in 2007. (AP Photo / Ulyanovsk regional administration press service)

Somewhere in the panic around the birth of the 7 billionth person, the news that the world's population growth was actually slowing got lost.

According to a recent article in Slate, it took the world 13 years to grow from 6 to 7 billion people, but only 12 to go from 5 to 6 billion. The implication is that population growth is slowing, and according to some estimates, may stop completely within the lifespan of people alive right now. The world's population may cap out at 9 billion.

So we're saved, right? After all, many of the world's ills, from crime to pollution, water shortages to the impending wheat crisis, tend to be blamed on overpopulation. But a low birth rate is a problem of a different sort: Once this generation has fewer children, the next generation is bound to have even fewer. That means that there will be more elderly than there are young, and fewer people around to care for those older people, plus a diminishing labor population and decreased future tax revenues. All this spells fiscal instability and economic stagnation in the long run.

(Of course, at the same time, Britain's second most shout-y tabloid, The Daily Mail, is wailing about Britain's "population boom," powered by those baby-making immigrants who are putting a strain on the country's resources. So you can't ever win.)

Some countries that regard their birth rates as too low (less than 2.1 children per woman, which is the replacement rate necessary to maintain a population) have embarked on campaigns to help up it; often, measures include tax credits for children or financial aid in some way. Others, however, are thinking a bit more creatively.

1. Singapore: Lie Back and Think of Singapore

Singapore is aggressively tackling their low birth rate problem—with the help of mints.

On August 9, 2012, the Singapore authorities partnered with mint-peddlers Mentos ("The Freshmaker") to put together "National Night," a campaign meant to encourage Singaporean couples to let their "patriotism explode" and help the nation increase its 0.78 children per woman birth rate. The resulting ad went viral. "Singapore's population, it needs some increasing/So forget waving flags, August 9th we be freaking ... I'm a patriotic husband, you're my patriotic wife, let's do our civic duty and manufacture life," the smooth-voiced, minty-breathed rapper suggests. "The birth rate ain't goin' spike itself!"

But that's not all. Singapore is also tackling the problem where it lives or rather, where it doesn't: The Urban Redevelopment Authority has placed a limit on the number of small one-bedroom flats that can be built in an effort to curb the singleton lifestyle and encourage people to shack up and make babies.

Singapore spends around $1.3 billion annually on trying to convince its citizens to get busy, including offering $15,000 parental packages for each child, tax incentives, and extended maternity leave.

2. South Korea: Lights Out

South Korea's birth rate has fallen to one of the lowest in the developed world, at 1.2 children per woman in 2010. That's even lower than China, with its aggressive one child policy (it's at 1.6). The low birth rate is in part the fault of a government program to promote smaller families in the 1970s and '80s, but more recently, financial woes are more to be blamed for the baby slowdown—South Koreans have one of the highest household debt burdens in Asia, at roughly 160 percent of income.

One of the biggest concerns that South Korean parents have is being able to pay for their children's care and education, so the government is promising to halve tuition fees for state-run childcare and is actively trying to weaken the perception that a college degree is necessary for success.

That's one way—but the South Korean government is also taking other, more creative measures. In addition to the cash gifts and incentives offered to staff who have more than one child, in 2010, the South Korean government decided to turn off the lights in its offices at 7pm on the third Wednesday of every month—called "Family Day"—to "help staff get dedicated to childbirth and upbringing." While the official in charge of the program acknowledged that going home early probably didn't have a direct link to making more babies, every little bit helps.

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Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is a writer for Mental Floss.

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