Many countries in the world are looking at ways in which government policy can help increase their fertility rates. Families in Italy are offered incentives to move to the country if they have three children. Mothers in Hungary are offered a lifetime of no tax if they have enough children. France and Sweden offer generous parental leave schemes and Poland offers cash payments for a woman’s second baby.
South Korea and Japan are grappling with work-life balance and societal expectations for women that make it very hard to have large families. China is ramping up the propaganda in praise of two children (and quietly shelving its 40 years of propaganda to the contrary).
One initiative that these countries may wish to look at to boost fertility is to increase access to the internet. According to research recently published in Population Studies, access to broadband internet has a positive effect on fertility, overall life satisfaction (probably due to Netflix) and time spent with children (probably as you all watch Netflix together).
The study was based upon broadband deployment in Germany and was linked to data about retrospective life course information and fertility histories. After gaining access to high-speed internet, the share of higher-educated women aged 25 to 45 who give birth to a child in one year rises from 7.2 to 8.7 per cent. Lesser-educated women, however, do not record significant fertility changes, nor do they see changes to life satisfaction or time with children.
The reason the researchers put forward for these results is plausible. Higher-educated women are better able to use high-speed internet to work from home (their likelihood of doing so is increased by 30 per cent with high speed internet). This in turn facilitates smart working and part-time working and allows higher educated women to better reconcile work and motherhood.
However, the researchers warn that access to broadband internet introduces a “fertility digital divide” which excludes lesser-educated women who cannot generally reap the benefits of internet to enter flexible work. Obviously this is not a full answer to fertility issues, but high speed internet does at least provide flexibility to some women to pursue work and family, and perhaps help low fertility countries to increase their birth rates.