Birth Rates are Falling in the Nordics. Are Family-Friendly Policies No Longer Enough?

Twenty years ago, Finland appeared to have it all. The birth rate was rising and the proportion of women in the labour force was high. Policymakers from around the world, including the UK and east Asia, came to learn about the Nordic model behind it: world class maternity care; generous parental leave; a right to pre-school childcare.

But maybe they got it wrong. Despite all the support offered to parents, Finland’s fertility rate has fallen nearly a third since 2010. It is now below the UK’s, where the social safety net is more limited, and only slightly above Italy’s, where traditional gender roles persevere.

This is a puzzle for Anna Rotkirch, research director at the Family Federation of Finland’s Population Research Institute. A sociologist and demographer, she is one of Europe’s experts on how young people view having children. In 2020 and 2021, she advised then Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin on reinvigorating the country’s birth rate.