A solution to a demographic problem? The traditional family in Europe

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A solution to a demographic problem? The traditional family in Europe

European countries are facing a serious demographic crisis. To counter falling birth rates, conservatives advocate a return to the traditional family.

Europe’s demographic crisis

Governments in Europe are growing increasingly concerned about the demographic crises in their countries. Italy, for example, is experiencing one of the most significant population declines in Europe. Last year, the country registered 393,000 births and 713,499 deaths.[1]

These patterns have significant economic consequences. The rapidly shrinking working population carries responsibility for a growing population of elderly people. Because elderly people need extensive healthcare, this puts a huge strain on the working population, especially as it is declining.[2]

And Italy is not the only country with a demographic problem. Other European countries, including Poland, Greece, Croatia,[3] Russia,[4] and Ukraine[5] are also watching their populations decline.

A return to traditional values

Conservatives often blame the decay of traditional family values for the declining population. Many of them, including some religious institutions, find fault with the modern liberties that are replacing traditional notions of the family. They criticise developments surrounding gay marriage,[6] abortion, and people choosing not to have children,[7] among other things.

The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations is highly critical of same-sex marriage, for example. According to the Council, the legalisation of same-sex marriage would undermine traditional family values in Ukraine. Furthermore, it would exacerbate the current demographic crisis, because same-sex couples cannot naturally conceive children.[8]

The Russian government has also expressed concern about the demographic decline in its country. In an attempt to counter the low birthrates, Russian politicians advocate a return to traditional values and criticise modern freedoms. Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, for instance, spoke critically of women who prioritise their education and career over having children. Apart from this, deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy urged Murashko to ban commercial abortion clinics and tighten control over chemical abortions. Andrey Nikitin, chairman of the Social Policy Commission of the Federal Council, stated that “[n]o traditional religion supports abortion.”[9]

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is also a strong proponent of the traditional family. This is visible in her government policy. To stimulate parenthood and counter the current demographic decline, Meloni established a Ministry for Family and Birth.[10] She aspires to build a “nation where parenting is not out of fashion, but a socially recognised value.” Pope Francis, who also advocates family values, believes that Italy’s record low birth rate is largely the result of “selfish and egocentric” choices of young people.[11]

The traditional family in the Russian war

The traditional family also plays a role in the Russian war against Ukraine. In Russia, the war is often portrayed as a fight against the “godless” influences of Western culture. These influences, like feminism, so-called “gender freedoms,” and “LGBTQ+ propaganda,” are seen as a threat to Russia’s traditional values.[12]

According to Russian conservatives, traditional values secure the nation’s procreation. These values, including the ideal of the traditional family, encourage women to bear children. In a way, the war against Ukraine is meant to preserve traditional values and safeguard the Russian population.[13]

Nontraditional families

In other parts of Europe, the idea of the traditional family is losing momentum. Even some religious actors are starting to adjust to the idea of nontraditional families. The traditional family, based on a marriage between a man and a woman, has deep roots in the Christian faith.[14] Nevertheless, the Christian Democrats in Denmark and Norway have decided to broaden their definition of the family. They want to include diverse types of families, not only those consisting of a husband, a wife, and children.[15]

Rather than championing the traditional family, Norway is employing other strategies to combat its demographic decline. For example, the Norwegian government intends to stimulate parenthood by increasing financial support for young parents. Apart from this, a Norwegian expert pleads to make fertility treatments free to increase the country’s birth rate.[16]

The traditional family in Europe

European countries are subject to changing values and social norms. Same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, and other progressive freedoms are becoming more and more normal. Some people believe these developments are contributing to their country’s rapid population decline. In order to increase the number of births, they advocate a return to traditional values. Can the traditional family alleviate the demographic crises in these countries?

Zonne Dijkstra

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[1] Why Giorgia Meloni fights for the family

[2] Europe must prepare for a new demographic reality

[3] Changing continent: The EU’s population is declining, new figures reveal

[4] Russia’s population nightmare is going to get even worse

[5] The war exacerbates Ukraine’s population decline new report shows

[6] Council of Churches urges the government not to equate same-sex cohabitation with family

[7] Commercial abortion clinics in Russia criticised

[8] Council of Churches urges the government not to equate same-sex cohabitation with family

[9] Commercial abortion clinics in Russia criticised

[10] Why Giorgia Meloni fights for the family

[11] Pope Francis and Prime Minister Meloni plead for the traditional family

[12] Russia’s War Is a Failed Answer to Its Demographic Crisis

[13] Russia’s War Is a Failed Answer to Its Demographic Crisis

[14] Norwegian Christian Democrats plan to widen family definition

[15] Scandinavian Christian Democrats take progressive turn in family issues

[16] Norwegian expert pleads for free fertility treatments to increase population