I've heard a lot about population decline lately, and the effects it could have on the future. It got me thinking how this would affect future countries and possibly even space faring civilizations and what strategies they would come up with. One idea I thought of was to have a minimum birth rate. This would work by restricting a person from having less than a certain amount of children, such as 4 or 5.

So my question is, would a strategy like this work to boost population growth? Would it only work for authoritarian empire type civilizations, or could it even work for modern day countries now suffering from population decline?

If it doesn't work, then what strategy could modern and future countries use to stabilize and increase their birth rates?

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    $\begingroup$ It's a fallacy, First World issue, third World 10 or more kids isn't uncommon $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Jun 19 '17 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ With a population of 7+ billion people using more than 1 Earth resources per year you want to increase the population? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '17 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ Look here - do you see any population decline? Because I do not, not really. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 19 '17 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ take away the tv and the mobile phones and instant baby boom $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Jun 19 '17 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ There's a big problem with this question: It can't be answered in a real-world context because there isn't a population decline problem. But it can't be answered in your fictional world either (which presumably does have the problem) because you haven't told us why the population is declining! The correct answer will be: Whatever's causing the population to decline, stop doing that (and reverse it)! $\endgroup$ – colmde Jun 19 '17 at 15:14

11 Answers 11


Encouragement is a better incentive than enforcement

If you want couples to have more children consider each of the disincentives to having children at all. Things like the cost of childcare, the cost of the career break for the mother (5 children is effectively a 10 year career break).

The obvious first step is decent parental leave systems. Protected funded time off work of up to a year split between the parents as they choose. Give them the right to ask to work part time on becoming parents etc. You can also offset the costs by providing free childcare or encouraging a system of communal childcare from an early age so you can have the parents back in work sooner. Maybe universal basic income or even paying people to be full time parents.

Always start your research in Scandinavia when looking for parental benefits.

As soon as you start considering enforcement then you're drifting towards dystopia (and the answers to the question will also look dytopian). There will be social and even financial costs to people who can't afford, or medically aren't able to have children.

If you enforce children are you also enforcing heterosexuality? If not, what are you going to do about those couples who pretend to be homosexual to avoid having children. It's not uncommon in Japan to have fake weddings to pretend to the parents that the children are heterosexual, the opposite could become true in your culture of enforcement.

What about those people who are too socially awkward to get into a relationship or who are psychologically incapable of looking after a child (or themselves)?

The next step is of course to decide who is or is not allowed/required to have children and you're well on the way to eugenics.

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    $\begingroup$ Note: on top of leave for pregnancy and caring for the newborn, it is also useful to offer parents a contribution to their pension scheme; otherwise for each child they have they'll have to work longer. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Jun 19 '17 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ +1 to answer. Also, consider tax benefits, for example standard deductions that cover nearly all the costs of having a child. Guaranteed educational benefits. Heavily discounted health and life insurance benefits. Government run, well regulated and free daycare and health benefits for non-adults. Most couples instinctively want children and are only dissuaded by the rationality of costs (not just financial but time and added responsibility). The more of those costs you can reduce or eliminate, the more children will be born. In effect the government can spend money and get more children. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 19 '17 at 19:18

This is somewhat of an unsolved problem. Some countries actually have tried to boost their birth rates (for no real reason). I want to mention something first:

The declining birth rate rhetoric is often racist at its core. I'm not saying it has to be, a future civilization might actually have that issue. But currently, what a lot of people are talking about is not enough people being born belonging to their kind and dirty foreigners having more babies. One should be aware of that. I'm not saying you are a victim, but you should look into who has been telling you those things and their motives. Most advocates of "more babies" claim the wrong kind of people are multiplying.

Because of that, some countries have tried their best to increase birth rates and nothing has worked directly. I think it is fair to conclude that you cannot have a significant increase in a modern democracy or even in less democratic countries. I will not name examples because people hate it when I do that, but there are some countries which I would not call democratic that have failed. You can certainly increase the birth rate short term (for example by improving the economic situation), but again and again the increase was small and it declined again soon. I will not mention one obvious and large country that will feel this in the near future because let's keep politics outside. Some countries have managed to stabilize their birth rate, yes. But getting it up again, especially to the the levels you implied?

My answer is too long already, if you want to know how to keep it at a certain level, there are already a couple of decent answers. I personally would look into how France treats mothers and children differently than others. Because France exists, this is also a bit off-topic. But they are at a relatively low level globally and not close to your 4 births.

So we are dealing with an unsolved problem here. If someone actually has a solution that would not destroy the country, there are several candidates that would like to implement it.

However, a case can be made that highly developed countries tend to have lower birth rates. This is not the only factor, Germany has a significantly lower birth rate than France (again), two countries on equal development level. Btw, why not make Germany more French? If you know how, you should consider going into German politics, they pay reasonably well. There are many variables here, too many.

So what about destroying your country?

Well, I think this might be your only direct solution for boosting the birth rate if you succeed. If you want more births, go back to the middle ages. But this will not lead to more population. More people will die because of the plague and hunger and dirty water and during child birth - if you succeed. You won't because people will have enough after a year or two. As a result, the birth rate will drop again. Once again, short term.

So consider your only reliable and proven option: Immigration. Remember the people that wanted the dirty foreigners to stay away? Well, if you want more people, do not listen to them. Let them in. If you offer something nice (or just have good marketing), people will want to live in your country. This is happening all over the world right now. And if you do not have enough population increase, just destabilize a poorer country and (mostly young) people will join you by the millions. Let's lookat France (once again): Their birth rate increased (I told you that this cannot happen before) from the 70ies onward? How did that happen? Well, they had a significant worker shortage in the 70ies and then the immigrants came. Ever since there are more children born there. A combination of good politics/protection for mothers/child friendliness/open doors to immigrants/economic growth and one can have an unusual high birth rate and a growing population in a wealthy democratic country.

A word on your 4 children policy: Well, I already commented on this, this one is impossible to implement.


It might work, but there are some issues.

There are a couple of factors in play that will hugely influence the success or failure of the idea. If you want to force people to make more children you have to make sure all facilities that are needed to accomodate the rise in children are present. At the same time you have to realize that a child is massively expensive for the parents and two working parents with a 4 or 5 child family is next to impossible.

So there are some things that are absolute requirements;

  • Government compensation for parents, especially low income.
  • Good daycare and primary school facilities.*
  • Public opinion must have an overwhelming majority in favor for this policy

*Currently there are a fixed number of slots for primary school and 'forcing' people to have more children will lead to either bigger classes, or more classrooms and teachers needed. The latter usually has preference since it's better for quality purposes.

Another major issue is that it reduces people's freedom. You can't really force anyone to do anything without breaking some constitutional rights. And if you as government discriminate against people who refuse to have children or a certain number of children as desired it will likely be frowned upon by more than a few. If you go through with this policy regardless of a large group of people being against it, it could lead to serious political problems. If you're a democracy, you'll be simply voted out when there are elections. If you're a dictatorship there are some other factors in play,but if you're bad enough people might revolt.

Lastly there is the issue of resources available. There is a limited amount of biomass available and there is a limited capacity to modern farming. This issue will strain the Earth's already fragile environment.

If somehow all these issues can be overcome, the strategy is viable, but it needs a good reason to have the public in favor, and should not discriminate against those who refuse to partake. This will probably boil down to the government fully financing parents for their children when they reach a certain numbers while not encumbering non-compliant people more.

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    $\begingroup$ I think your answer is incomplete as long as there is no mention of women's rights which is still a big topic today. That is the main issue with this idea, the progress that needs undoing before someone can even think about demanding a certain amount of children from any woman $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 19 '17 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ I figured that the wart where I mentioned that forcing people to have a certain amount of kids probably violates some constitutional rights... That this per extension incorporates women's rights speaks for itself since everyone is equal and it affects both men and women alike. $\endgroup$ – Hyfnae Jun 19 '17 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Women's rights is not about constitution but more about social progress. If it was about laws, they would be perfectly equal in many countries which they are not. Women are treated better now not because it says so on a paper but because western mankind has changed so much. Reducing them to birthing machines is a completely different issue than "limiting freedom". They could be the same theoretically, I agree, but they are not in practice. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 19 '17 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that's for the story writer to decide how to tackle this point. My answer merely states the conditions in which case a policy like this could be successful (mild; could... one could write a book about an issue like this.) $\endgroup$ – Hyfnae Jun 19 '17 at 13:03

There seems to be an implicite assumption that people cannot be manipulated and that to achieve substantial changes in society some kind of enforcement is required. I disagree. The country i live in recycles more then 90% of its glass. There are no penalties for not carrying your empty wine bottles and nutella jars to the recycle container, it's just something we do. There are campaings to promote recycling, recycling containers are usually within easy walking distace and really, everyone does it, it has become second nature. When you see someone dropping a glass jar in a regular bin you'd assume they are very absent-minded.

So there you go: pave the road by making it easy to have and take care of children: paternity and maternity leave, high quality care, free education, good schools and jobs for young people. Make sure people see a stable, bright future for their kids (see why Russia has such trouble increasing birth rate?)

And then nudge. Teach kids at school how parening is fun and rewarding and should be ideally started with immediately after turning 25. When i was growing up the message i got was that getting pregnant was THE END - of education, career, fun and life in general. High maternal age is now a problem in our society (because of the health risks), and it limits the number of children people have.

So: make it cool, have role models, have repeated advertising campaigns. It will take you a decade or two, but its possible to achieve a society where your populace is happy to have a lot of kids.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Ivana! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 19 '17 at 15:47

This reminds me of the scene from the cult film: A boy and his dog, where Vic has been made into a sperm donor.

Care to get hooked up to that machine?

Seriously, how do you enforce that sort of regulation, without turning your country into a totalitarian regime, which will create a backlash, an insurgency, a revolution, and you're right back where you started.

Instead, create incentives for more children - free school, free day care, free toys... until you run your country bankrupt, and you have a revolution again.

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    $\begingroup$ The only incentive to have more children that really works is what third world countries use - no social security. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 19 '17 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ What @Mołot said; tj1000, what you describe is perhaps removing barriers, but it's not really incentives. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 19 '17 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ Britain had quite a good incentive for more babies - more money. Added to that bad education in some areas, and the possibility of free housing away from their own parents, a lot of babies were born simply so people could be lazy and get free money... Fortunately things have changed to put a cap on that sort of behaviour (though the education has barely improved...) $\endgroup$ – Rycochet Jun 19 '17 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot That isn't true. Brazil's social security system works too well (as in, people game the system to reap the benefits without really deserving it), and still a lot of people have a ton of kids. Most of the time this happens because people are too stupid to engage in safe sex, and no other reason. I mean, really - statistics point 1 undesired pregnancy per day on certain states for funk parties alone. Going to a rave-like event is a serious risk of pregnancy and DSTs on Brazil! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '17 at 17:57

Sorry, I don't buy it.

Who says we have an infertility problem is more or less crazy.

We (as humankind) are over ten times the number this planet can accommodate without collapsing in the (possibly very near) future.

The answer by @Raditz_35 gives you some of the "reasons" for these unwarranted claims. I won't repeat.

I will remark there is another non-racist (but probably even more idiotic) reason to to promote childbirth: the so called "population aging"; reasoning is we need more young people to work if we want to live long and happy senile years. What advocates apparently refuse to realize is this implies an exponential growth which isn't compatible with our finite world as we are saturating all niches.

Real problem is to set up politics to incentive (if possible) and enforce (otherwise) birth control! (note I'm from a Country where the balance is kept more or less stable only by immigrants; "truly Italian" population (whatever it might mean) is shrinking since more than a decade, so I should be concerned by disappearance of "Italian race"... only I can't really force myself to believe such a thing actually exists).

It is true we need biodiversity to have a strong population, but we are several order of magnitude above such limit.

Problem might arise in the future when relatively small and scarcely communicating colonies are established in space, but surely not here on Earth.

We are still following quite closely predictions about "limits of growth" as portrayed by the "Club di Roma" in 1972. They were laughing stock for decades, but trends are exactly as predicted, including the famous graph plotting desired children vs. yearly income (sorry I'm unable to do a serious search now, if someone is interested I can try to fish out the data; at worst I can scan my personal copy of the book, bought when it was first printed).

NOTE: All original "predictions" were actually in the form "if nothing changes, this is the trend" and some "boundary conditions" actually variated significantly, stretching somewhat the curves, but trends are completely recognizable.

I strongly suspect much of that work is relevant for this question.

  • $\begingroup$ Your third paragraph is a myth. As it stands we could fit the entire population of Earth comfortably in the state of texas. Our economic resources are dwindling, not our natural resources. Read a bit about the petrodollar. $\endgroup$ – I wrestled a bear once. Jun 19 '17 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Iwrestledabearonce.: I don't want to start a holly war. I do not agree with you. I hope I'm old enough I won't see the problem. I fear for my daughter. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jun 20 '17 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ The rate of growth is actually decreasing. General knowledge no longer supports the idea of an overpopulation scenario in the foreseeable future. I'd paste a link but I can only lead you to water, can't make you drink. $\endgroup$ – I wrestled a bear once. Jun 20 '17 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @iwrestledabearonce: I am aware population growth is slacking and "overpopulation in the foreseeable future" is not happening... because It happened in the past. Keep listening to Trump propaganda, you'll be Happy... and, please, remain in Texas, you might be able to sit down once 7+ billions humams join you. I know I won't be able to convince You, but I Just can't let It pass. Unfurtunately our species already destroyed too much.. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jun 20 '17 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ i support the idea of eugenics. I'm not a Trump fanboy, and I don't live anywhere near Texas. Right now there are more humans on Earth than there have ever been before, no no, it's not happened before. According to math, if every human lived in Texas we would all get roughly 1000 sq feet to live on. Space is clearly not the issue though, the issue is resources. We can mechanically clean our water and breed our food though, so the issue isn't resources either. The real problem with the population is the toll it takes on our economy. Sleep well tonight knowing mother Earth is not suffering. $\endgroup$ – I wrestled a bear once. Jun 20 '17 at 20:08

Setup for a grim, fascist dystopian society (OP didn't specify what he wants to have):

Have a breeding farm.

You need a certain ratio between men and women so that your gene pool doesn't get to redneck-first-grade-cousin-like (Your slave-workforce needs to be strong, good gene-material is a must!).

And then just breed away. After maybe 10 kids, a woman is not suitable to bear any "good" children anymore, so you can dispose of them (release them to the wild, use as biomass, I don't know). A man can father children much longer, so you don't need as many men as breeders as women.

Of course there's the thing with human rights and all, but well, who cares about that, right?

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    $\begingroup$ The problem of course would be the long lifespan of humans and the required education before they can be used for anything (other than biomass). To perfect this process, we would need a couple of hundred years most likely, especially since you did not mention genetics. Whatever those farms produce will be of no better quality than what we already have on earth and for free - so they are not financially viable. I think this can never happen, maybe the only solution are artificial mother machines and pure test-tube babies, but no cow-like semi-natural breeding. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 19 '17 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Long lifespan? I think a cow could theoretically live a lot longer than we let it. Financially viable? You have an extremely large army of self-bred-slaves that can be indoctrinated and subdued from birth to work for the "upper class". Genetic research? Let evolution handle it. If a woman bears bad children, add them to your biomass! $\endgroup$ – Fl.pf. Jun 19 '17 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ A cow is useful after a year. A human at that age does nothing, currently average humans need 20-30 years of learning (of some sort) in order to become relevant to modern western society. You do not need a farm for slaves. Also your solution might even decrease the population once it actually works - because less are needed since they are better and only produced as needed. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 19 '17 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ Your answer is currently in the low-quality review queue. I can only imagine that the content is being viewed as unfitting. You might want to put your last sentence as the first one to emphasize that you are trying to model a dystopian universe and that phrases like "redneck-first-grade-cousin-like" and "After maybe 10 kids, a woman is not suitable to bear any 'good' children anymore" are not viewed as your personal degrading point of view, but merely as possible scenarios that should help the OP. The wording makes this a bit sensitive, so just a tip. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 19 '17 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is incredibly offensive. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '17 at 18:06

You can accomplish a higher birth rate without having to impose anything.

In 1800, the fertility rate in the USA was 7 children per family. Now it's around two. People are having fewer children, so we need to ask why people limit the number of children they have?

There are several reasons to limit the number of children.

  1. Cost - this is the most significant reason. Right now, it costs about $10,000 a year in the USA to raise a child (note: this is spending per child which is more than the basic cost to raise. These numbers are intertwined.)
  2. Self-focus - Many couples elect not to have children because children would prevent them from having the lifestyle they want to live. When you have kids, they constrain you. You may not be able to take exotic vacations, sleep in on the weekends, or stay out all night at a night club. Many couples elect to have fewer children so the burden of childrearing is lighter. It's easier to raise two kids than 22.
  3. Social Pressure - In developed countries, larger families elicit a degree of disapproval. Much of this is simply typical social ostracism of those outside of the mainstream, but some it is politically motivated (e.g. large families have large carbon footprints or those who subscribe to [Malthusianism])3

If the government were to start a population program where couples sign up, are selected on basis of intellect and achievement and receive training. The selected couples are provided funds from public coffers equal to the expense of raising children for each child they have. The parents are celebrated as heroes, selflessly giving up much in order to ensure the nation continues, all while receiving a stipend, exemption from military service and huge tax discounts.

In short order, the population rate would be much higher than it is now with much less resentment than a forced solution would provide.


Dare I state the obvious.. clones.

The tech exists now to fully clone people. We don't do it for ethical reasons but mankind was on the verge of extinction I'm sure lawmakers would reconsider.

  • $\begingroup$ We can't clone adults. Somehow I doubt society will be more inclined to create cloned babies than normal babies. $\endgroup$ – enderland Jun 19 '17 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ we can certainly clone adults, but yes the clones (of adults) will be infants. depending on the severity of the situation it would make more sense to say, clone every human 100x rather than force every woman to give birth a 100x. $\endgroup$ – I wrestled a bear once. Jun 19 '17 at 18:30

We have the technology to create the precise birthrate we require. Clones!

Seriously, we have cloned sheep and rabbits. It's not really finacially viable at this point, but the tech to do it is there.

With clones, you just warm up a batch of however many to match the monthly birth rate quota. Distribute the results to couples who are having trouble conceiving first. You can even use their own genetic material.

The next advantage of clones is that you can control conditions that have a strong genetic component.

Even Easier than clones: Test Tube Babies. In Vitro Fertilization on a production line scale.

Of course, you have to care for and educate the production line kids, and that is not going to be easy. Massive state run schools and homes will be the norm. You are going to have a bunch of societal discord, with clones being treated as second class for a while. At least until they outnumber the "Nats"

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    $\begingroup$ There is a reason that sexual reproduction is more common than budding (natural cloning) is that sexual reproduction's shuffling of genetics to offset genetic mutations. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Neely Jun 19 '17 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewNeely I'm assuming that as we clone, we will shuffle the material, but you do bring a good point. We could do production line test tube babies as well. $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jun 19 '17 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ What is the advantage of using IVF to normal non-aided sexual reproduction? $\endgroup$ – Andrew Neely Jun 19 '17 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrewNeely When you you have to start pushing this kind of agenda, you have to force people to do what you want. The advantage to IVF is you can harvest viable eggs and such during "normal" and "routine" medical checks, a government can get all of the material they need to run IVF or cloning on a massive scale. Also, they control the "quality" of the offspring. The advantages of sexual reproduction without the problems of actual people. This sort of thing can't really happen in a free and open society, but in a dystopian future.... $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jun 19 '17 at 17:10

Contrary to what many other people are saying, what you have heard is correct. Population decline will eventually become a problem, but it has only hit a few countries so far. Japan, Germany, and Russia are all currently having to deal with negative birth rates which have dangerous and possibly catastrophic long term effects on a nation's economy.

I am gonna start by highlighting why population decline will eventually become a world problem, but before I do I should address all of the people stating the obvious that if those counties want to fix their immigration problem they should let in more immigrants. Yes it is easily solved if you let in more immigrants, but if you look at the question you can infer that he is worried about future societies and space faring peoples that likely don't have the option of just "letting in more immigrants."

Population decline due to incredibly low birth rates is mostly a phenomenon of the 1st world. Russia is an exception because of their unclear status as a "2nd world" country. Its population decline is tied to large amounts of migration out of the country, because citizens are looking for a better life, while also not having the birth rate of a typical non 1st world country. A stagnant economy, low birth rate, and high levels of crime and danger combine to form a incredibly harmful situation that is generally unique to Russia. But the situation of Japan and Germany could very soon be the whole of Western Europe and eventually all of the 1st world. And the assumption is that eventually all of the world will reach the level of 1st world countries meaning it will eventually become a world problem, but likely not within the next century.

Now the main immediate problem with population decline is its effects on a country's welfare state. What you quickly begin to see is that there are two many retired elders collecting benefits, and to few working adults creating tax revenue to fuel the elderly's benefits. This immediate problem is the main threat which could tank the country's economy and possibly destroy the society in the long term, but we really don't know what will happen because to my knowledge we haven't seen an example of this play out yet. Regardless as long as the population declines the death spiral will continue.

The second more long term danger is that eventually the civilization will become so small it will began to actually revert to less complex economics due to the lack of people to maintain the current level of specialization. At this point I can't really play out what could happen next, because there are many possibilities for what results of this. Society could collapse completely or society could revert to an earlier level of complexity once again reincentivaizing higher child birth rates.

Regardless to remedy the problem you would need to make raising children less expensive, or force families to divert more income towards raising families via the minimum birth rate you suggested. Though to be frank you just need to keep the birth rate at 2.1 kids per family. So every family has 2 kids and the 10th out of every 10 has 3. I think you best option in a democratic society, that guarantees a stable birth rate, is a minimum birth rate based on family income brackets. Wealthy families have to have high amounts of children, around 4, while middle class families have around 2. Poor families would only be required to have 1. I think this could work while still giving the appearance of being "fair," so that people would actually elect representatives who wanted this policy.

You could alternatively try to subsidize child care, and do PR campaigns and all the like to "push" people towards having more kids, but this will require raising taxes significantly. Either way though you are forcing people to spend more on child care, just through taxes or forced spending.

A final policy that could work which could probably be passed if the society was desperate enough is a lottery. People that don't eventually get married get randomly married to a member of the opposite sex, and all married couples, forced together or not, are forced to have 2 kids with every tenth having 3.


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