Low-birth Greece takes a further hit from crisis

April 21, 2013 by John Hadoulis

In a nursery of a private maternity hospital in Athens, three mothers feed their newborns while another three babies nap nearby. The room has only a few cots, and yet a number lie empty.

Sunk in for the past six years and struggling to steer its economy through painful austerity cuts, Greece now faces a fertility crisis as well.

"Benefits have been cut, the cost of living has risen, wages are down and there is great uncertainty," says Leonidas Papadopoulos, managing director of the Leto hospital and a veteran .

"Couples think twice nowadays, not only for a second child but even for their first... It looks like there will be 10,000 fewer births next year," he adds, citing estimates drawn from state and private studies.

According to state statistics agency Elstat, the in Greece has fallen from 2.33 children per woman in 1975 to 1.4 in 2011.

The replacement rate, the number of births at which the population remains stable, is 2.07 children.

Papadopoulos also cites a recent study by the University of Athens which found that the rate of has doubled to four percent in the last two years.

And births have gone from 118,000 in 2008 to 101,000 last year, he notes.

"At this rate, Greece will be much smaller in a few years," Papadopoulos says.

The European Union fertility leader is Ireland with 2.05 births in 2012, followed by France with 2.01 children.

In one of its projected scenarios, Elstat sees the population of Greece dropping to 9.7 million in 2050 from 11.29 million in 2012.

A jobless rate of over 27 percent—and over 30 percent among women—compounds the difficulty facing couples today.

"Policies to protect maternity are easier to apply in good (economic) periods," says a high-ranking state welfare official who declined to be named.

"In the private sector, mothers very frequently do not make use of their rights because unemployment is very high," the official added.

In Greece's more easy-going civil service, staff can take up to 14 months in fully paid maternity leave—and have been known to obtain extra time for difficult pregnancies.

In the private sector, mothers can on paper claim up to 15 months of non-consecutive maternity leave—four of them unpaid—not including holidays.

In reality, however, employees rarely push to obtain full maternity leave for fear of losing their job, officials note.

The Greek ombudsman's office highlights the problem in its latest report for 2012.

"Women who are pregnant or just back from maternity leave, run higher risks of...unemployment and precarious employment," the report said.

"In many cases they accept a violation of their labour rights to avoid losing their job," it noted, adding that having children was also likely to adversely affect a woman's pay and career prospects within a company.

"We even have extreme examples of couples who have been trying to have a child for years, undergo costly treatment and then want to have an abortion because the husband just lost his job," said.

The 'money is so little that it cannot even cover bread and milk for the children'

Paradoxically, the axe has fallen the hardest on large families.

Until last year, mothers could claim a lump sum of 2,000 euros ($2,618) upon the of their third child, and the same amount for each child thereafter.

Then there were additional child support benefits of up to 4,700 euros a year, depending on income and the number of children, which were accessible to even moderately wealthy families.

These were eliminated in 2012 and replaced with a new, means-tested system.

From January 1, families are theoretically eligible for child support benefits of up to 5,880 euros—but they would need to have six children and be on the verge of starvation to claim it.

Spain is a similar example of a once-generous welfare gone for good—a 2,500-euro handout per baby was eliminated in 2011.

In Germany, parents receive 184 euros per month for their first two children. For the third child, the state pays 190 euros and for additional children 215 euros.

In Greece, even for couples who are not in dire straits, supporting a large family is tough.

"We cannot meet the needs of our three children and our parents are having to contribute from their pensions," says Georgia Kitsaki, an unemployed hotel worker from Thessaloniki.

Georgia and her husband Nikos, who is also unemployed after a labour accident, received a monthly jobless benefit of 470 euros until December, and child benefit of 276 euros. The latter has since been suspended.

"In any case, this money is so little that it cannot even cover bread and milk for the children," she adds.

Explore further: Mums are heading back to work sooner and it is stressing them out

Related Stories

Mums are heading back to work sooner and it is stressing them out

June 23, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Sole parents and married mums are working more, leading to more time in childcare for their kids and decreases in the parents overall life and job satisfaction, according to news stats from the Melbourne ...

Welfare allowance may hit women's careers

June 25, 2012
The cash-for-care benefit paid to Norwegian mothers so that they can stay at home with small children means they may quickly fall behind in the world of work, according to recent research.

One-third of parents concerned about losing jobs, pay when they stay home with sick kids

October 22, 2012
Many child care providers have rules that exclude sick children from care, spurring anxious moments for millions of working parents. In a new University of Michigan poll, one-third of parents of young children report they ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.