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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 16:01 GMT
Map: Parenthood policies in Europe

The BBC News website looks at how governments around Europe are tackling low-birth rates with policies designed to make balancing work and parenthood easier. Click on the map to read about each country.



Nordic governments employ a range of policies designed to help couples have more children. These governments have a long history of social policies aimed at helping people balance their work and family life. This is part of what is known as the "Nordic model".

In Sweden, each parent is entitled to 18 months leave, which is paid for by the government. Public day care is heavily subsidised and flexible work schedules are common - women with children of pre-school age are entitled to reduce their working hours. Women's participation in the work force is high. In Norway, mothers are entitled to 12 months off work with 80% pay or 10 months with full pay. Fathers are entitled to take almost all of that leave instead of the mother. Fathers must take at least four weeks leave or else those weeks will be lost for both parents. The leave is financed through taxes, so employers don't lose out.

Birth rates per woman: Norway: 1.81, Sweden: 1.75


Ireland has the highest fertility rate in the EU, despite the fact that child care is seen as underdeveloped and expensive.

Mothers get 26 weeks maternity leave plus 14 weeks parental leave

Birth rate: 1.99


New mothers currently get six months' paid leave and the option of six months further unpaid leave. The first six weeks are at 90% of pay and the next 20 at £102.80 per week. New fathers are allowed two weeks' paid leave at a maximum £102.80 a week.

The government offers free early education places. Children from the age of four get free part-time places at nurseries - some three year olds also get places.

Parents of children under the age of six have the right to ask their employers for more flexible working hours. Although employers don't have to agree with the request, they have to show they have considered it carefully.

Birth rate: 1.74


Germany has long had one of the lowest birth rates in the European Union and one of the highest proportions of childless women. According to EU statistics from 2005, 30% of German women have not had children.

Demographers say Germany's problem has probably been made worse because it has been ignored for so long

The government offers 14 weeks maternity leave plus parental leave of up to 36 months, with the level of pay depending on a number of factors.

One of the biggest problems is a real lack of child care places. According to government figures, only one in five children under three get a place in day care. Not only do they close at lunch time, but the fees are incredibly high. Another problem for working parents is that traditionally, the school day ends at 1pm.

The government has now lifted the birth rate to the top of the political agenda. In January, it adopted a bill to give tax breaks to families. It has also floated the idea of eliminating fees for kindergarten.

Birth rate: 1.37


The Polish parliament has passed legislation to pay women for each new child they have, in an effort to boost the country's falling population.

Under the scheme every woman will receive a one-off payment of 1,000 zlotys (258 euros; £177) - for each child she has. Women from poorer families will receive double that amount.

The population has actually decreased by close to half a million in the last six years. But some women's groups say payments are a quick fix and will not address the long-term trend.

Birth rate: 1.78


France has employed various policies to try to reconcile family life with women working. It has some of the most extensive state-funded child care in Europe.

Mothers can take 16 weeks paid maternity leave for the first child, rising to 26 weeks for the third child. There is also a total of 26 months parental leave.

Last year, the government pledged more money for families with three children in an effort to encourage working women to have more babies.

Child care facilities are subsidised by the government. Younger children are entitled to full-day childcare (crèches). For children aged two to three there are pre-school programmes for which families pay on a sliding scale.

Birth rates: 1.9 - the second highest fertility rate in Europe.


Currently Spain has the second-lowest rate of fertility among the original 15 EU member states. However in the early 1970s, it was among the highest.

Until recently, there had been strong public opposition to any government action aimed at increasing fertility, partly because such policies were associated with Franco's regime and partly because fertility was perceived as too high.

In 2003, the government introduced a national family policy but there is still a belief that family creation is a private matter. However, Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been urging companies to set up child care facilities and promoting long-term employment over short-term contracts.

Fully funded maternity leave can last for 16 weeks, and unpaid leave of three years is available, but only about one-third of Spanish mothers take up maternity benefits.

Child care services vary from region to region, with some being shorter than the working day.

Birth rate: 1.32


Italy has long had a problem with declining birth rates.

The problems include what is perceived to be a bias in the workplace to women who interrupt their careers to have children, the high fees charged by private nurseries and a chronic shortage of affordable housing for young people.

The Italian government offers a one-time payment of 1,000 euros (£685) to couples who have a second child.

Late last year a proposal that mooted paying women not to have abortions gained popular support in Parliament.

Birth rate: 1.33


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