3. Russia: Have a Baby, Win a Fridge!
Russia's population has been shrinking since the 1990s, propelled by a low birth rate and high death rate (the high alcoholism rate may be a factor in that). So, in 2007, the government declared September 12 national Day of Conception, in the hopes that giving couples the day off from work to do their civic duty would result in a baby spike nine months later, on Russia's national day, June 12. Women who gave birth on the national day could win refrigerators, money, even cars.
It seems to be working—in 2012, Russia's birth rate was set to match and possibly surpass America's. That's a big deal to the dying bear: Russia is already one of the most sparsely settled nations in the world, owing to its massive land size; demographics experts claim that if unchecked, the population there could go below 100 million by 2050. In the run-up to his presidential campaign in 2011, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged to spend £33 billion to boost Russia's birth rate by 30 percent over the next five years. No word on whether action man Putin was going to see to the duties personally.
4. Japan: Robot Babies to Save the Day
In addition to a stagnating economy, Japan is suffering from a seriously low birth rate—so low that in 1000 years, one demographer claims, the Japanese will be extinct. The country's fertility rate fell below two children per woman in 1975 and is now holding steady at around 1.39. But that means that its elderly population is starting to outpace its young population. In 2012, toiletries company Unicharm said that sales of its adult diapers "slightly surpassed" baby diapers for the first time since the company moved into the elderly market in 1987.
The Japanese government, some critics claim, hasn't done enough to address its low birth rate and in 2010, students at the University of Tsukuba stepped into the breach with Yotaro.
Yotaro is a robot baby. Though he doesn't exactly look like a real baby, he cries, sneezes, suffers that perpetually drippy nose that is instantly recognizable to any parent, giggles when tickled, and is calmed by his rattle. His creators are hoping that if he can spark some measure of parental emotion in the people who see him, maybe they'll consider making a real baby. "A robot can't be human but it's great if this robot triggers human emotions, so humans want to have their own baby," said Hiroki Kunimura, the Yotaro project leader.
5. Romania: No Babies? Higher Taxes
In the 1960s, Romania was approaching zero population growth—a terrifying prospect for a Communist nation that held the Marxist principle that economic health lay in a robust labor class. So, starting in 1966, the government took some drastic and chilling measures.
They chose the stick rather than the carrot: Though there are tax and monetary incentives to encourage people to have children, they also punished people for not having them: Childless men and women over the age of 25, regardless of marital status, were subject to a new tax that could be as much as 20 percent of their income. Divorce was made incredibly difficult; in 1967, only 28 divorces were allowed, a precipitous decrease from the 26,000 the year before. Police were installed in hospitals to make sure that no illegal abortions were performed, and legal importation of birth control was halted.