Deplorable Demographic Data and Family Policy in Hungary

James Northcote: Good Advice from an Old Servant to the Young Ones // Public domain

Demography, marked by diminishing birth rates, population decline, an aging society, migration, and crisis – these are the primary factorc we think about when discussing demography in the European Union today. We hear about them a lot, but the questions remains: How severe is the actual “crisis”?

Based on Eurostat’s demographic statistics, the European Union’s population has witnessed a decrease of over half a million compared to 2020 [1]. But how big is the problem if we only focus on the Hungarian data?

According to the census data of the KSH, as of 2022, Hungary’s population stands at 9,603,634 [2]. Contrasting this with 2011 data, there has been a notable decline of 333,994 individuals, representing a 3.4% decrease. These figures clearly show a negative trend both within Hungary and at the European level, with no evident shift towards positivity in the near future. Why are the numbers developing like this? What do the statistics show? How is Hungary responding politically to the given problem?

The population’s development is a consequence of the combined change in childbearing, mortality, and the balance of international migration[3]. In Hungary, a discernible population decline is observable. One contributing factor is the natural decline, where deaths outpace births. Over the last decade, Hungary has experienced an annual natural population decrease of 35-40 thousand people, reaching nearly 50,000 in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic[4].

The European population is undergoing a significant aging process – people are living longer, but simultaneously, fewer children are being born.

Such developments are likely to have profound implications, not only for individuals but also for governments, business and civil society, impacting, among others: health and social care systems, labour markets, public finances and pension entitlements.” says the Eurostat statistics [5].

The median age is increasing, and trends in childbirth are shifting akin to changes in the labor market. Sustaining households, even with dual incomes, is gradually becoming challenging. The age group no longer able to work is expanding, while the working-age group is not growing proportionately. The number of newborn generations changes,the age composition of the population, influencing the proportions of the young, middle-aged, and elderly population. It also expresses the reproductive conditions of the population, indicating the long-term developmental trajectory and the extent of changes.

For a long time, Hungarian fertility has been characterized by a level below simple reproduction and a permanent decrease in the population. In addition, the age profile of family planning trends has changed significantly, and this shift was particularly significant until the early 2010s, after which it slowed down, but is still significant. [6]

The reasons behind declining birth rates are multifaceted, encompassing institutional factors like labor market rigidities, insufficient childcare, and evolving gender roles. Economic uncertainty, a significant factor linked to variable fertility rates, is exacerbated by the high cost of living and inflation, making family planning a daunting prospect.

Additionally, the postponement of mortality is burdening healthcare institutions, a critical factor influencing individuals’ decisions about having children. Over the past year in Hungary, it has become increasingly common to hear that childbirth at certain hospitals at certain times is simply not possible. For instance, due to staffing changes, Jászberény Szent Erzsébet Hospital did not allow deliveries from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. or on weekends [7].

Similarly, the “Honvédkórház” hospital in Budapest cited a lack of capacity, issuing a similar announcement in August [8]. If the societal perception is that the healthcare system is overburdened to the extent that bringing a child into the world becomes problematic at the institutional level, it could significantly discourage the desire to have children on a micro level.

In addition to low fertility, another important factor that is crucial in the development of the population is international migration. In Eastern Europe, emigration is a primary driver of depopulation. Factors like low salaries, the cost of living, and a dearth of job opportunities lead thousands of Hungarians to leave the country each year.

In 2022 alone, 28,825 Hungarian citizens officially migrated abroad, an increasing number compared to previous years, and the trend shows not sign of change.[9] While seemingly insignificant at first glance, the compounding effect of an increasing number of people leaving the country annually exacerbates the depopulation challenge. The more people of working age leave the country, the less chance there will be that the fertility rate will increase in that country, resulting in worsening country’s demographic data.

Multiple factors and questions contribute to the decline in demographics data. So, what could be improved to change the trends in the next 5-10 years?

Due to the emerging demographic crisis, governments are trying to give new impetus to the residents of their countries with various policy packages and family policy reforms to bolster the reproductive average. What does this look like in Hungary?

The main goal of family policy subsidies is to improve the country’s demographic situation by supporting the realization of childbearing intentions and encouraging childbearing itself. In the rhetoric of the Orbán government, marriage and traditional family values have always played a pivotal role. But, how do these values manifest in the forms of support mentioned above?

In a narrow sense, family subsidies are primarily financial benefits paid directly to the family. In a broader sense, they support state expenditures for daycare, housing, education, tax system subsidies, and even support for families.

Hungary’s array of support includes maternity allowance, baby bond, family contribution discount, family discount, family allowance, home-building discount for families, childcare fee “csed,” graduate “gyed,” “gyed” extra, childcare fee “gyed,” childcare allowance “gyes,” child-rearing subsidy “gyet,” and regular child protection discount [10]. These measures include one-time benefits post-childbirth, meal support for children in school and kindergarten, tax cuts, monthly benefits, and discounts for purchasing, constructing, or extending new or used homes, along with maternity leave. The list is extensive, with constant changes in the forms and details of support.

In fact, Fidesz, the party governing Hungary for the past 13 years, has continuously introduced new family policy packages, encompassing aspects like female employment and utility reduction. While change is evident, the positive improvement of data remains uncertain

So, why aren’t birth rates increasing more dramatically? The answer lies in the purpose of family policy – not solely to enhance the well-being of families or protect children from poverty but primarily to encourage the “right” families to have children. The concept of “responsible” childbearing suggests that the state wants to encourage financially strong families to have children. At the same time, it indicates a lesser inclination or effort to support “irresponsible” families [11].

The Hungarian government’s specific notion of the “right” family is encapsulated in Hungary’s Fundamental Law, included during the 9th constitutional amendment. According to this amendment:

„Hungary protects the institution of marriage  between a man and a woman, a community of life created based on a voluntary decision, as well as the family as the basis for the survival of the nation. The basis of the family relationship is marriage and the parent-child relationship. The mother is a woman, the father is a man.” [12]

The Orbán government’s measures are geared not towards improving the lives of existing Hungarian families or raising the standard of living. Instead, the sole focus is on encouraging more childbirth to boost the country’s population data. Simultaneously, there is an electoral strategy involved, with the distribution of substantial benefits among core voters. Within this framework, the definition of family is narrowly stipulated, and those who do not align with the government’s ideal concept may not enjoy the same privileges outlined in the traditional “the mother is a woman, and the father is a man” construction.

The long-term efficacy of family policy interventions on fertility and demographic data is difficult to prove. Previous and recent pronatalist family measures in Hungary have led to slight increases, primarily stabilizing fertility rates without fundamentally altering the overall demographic landscape. If these trends persist in an unfavorable direction, what can we anticipate in the future?

Forecasts for Hungary’s population development suggest a significant decrease in the next half-century, assuming current unfavorable conditions persist. This decline is influenced not only by low fertility but also by the emigration of young, child-bearing age workers, playing a pivotal role in shaping the demographic landscape. Additionally, the age structure of the population is also changing significantly: the proportion of children and individuals in their active age is diminishing, while the proportion of the elderly is increasing. These shifts pose numerous challenges for which the Hungarian government appears to lack adequate solutions.











[10] Családtámogatás, női munkavállalás megtekintése (



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Renata Lele
Republikon Institute