Spain is giving single women free fertility treatment—but it won’t help revive its population

Protecting a precious commodity.
Protecting a precious commodity.
Image: Reuters/Joseba Etxaburu
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Yesterday, the Spanish government announced it would restore a policy offering free fertility treatment to lesbians and single women, a measure the previous administration cancelled in 2014.

The financial crisis didn’t help matters, but as Quartz has reported, Spain’s fertility rate has historically been one of the lowest in Europe (though it has been increasing ever so slightly since 2013). The latest measure is unlikely to have a drastic effect on the country’s fertility rate, which has been on life support since the 1990s.

Last year, Spain appointed a commissioner to focus on the demographic problem. Unemployment, a floundering economy, and a lack of young people certainly contribute to the low rates but it’s also tied to gender equality, access to childcare, and attitudes about work and marriage.

Research has shown that financial assistance helps, but childcare has a more significant effect. France is a model of success and has had high fertility rates since the late 1990s and through the 2000s when the rest of Europe was struggling to reproduce.

In the Guardian, Anne Chemin writes, “There is nothing mysterious about the approach that is working in both France and Scandinavia. It combines the idea of a modern family based on gender equality and powerful government policies.”

This is much harder to implement than a single policy. In addition to government support, in France and Scandinavian countries, Chemin points out that it’s more acceptable to have children outside of marriage, to be a single parent, or get divorced and remarried. That’s in contrast to countries like Spain, Italy, and Japan, which have more rigid family structures and ideas around having children.