As a kind of follow-up from this question, I have another question.

How can a country balance its demographics ethically and morally?

Of course, mass genocide and rapes are some of the ways, but they would not be embraced by the population in any sense of the word. This would be abhorred even by the international community.

Another way would be to "wait" until things balance "naturally" - this works best to "phase out" older people in favor of the younger people - under some conditions: 1) the economy can survive the wait and 2) the young people are actively "doing" something to help things - which might not happen because of the bad economy.

And the results of trying to raise the retirement age are already very visible.

I am not sure if the same strategies would work to balance the young-vs-old, as well as male-vs-female.

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    Are you asking about age only or ethnic, gender, religious and other characteristics? Also, what would you regard as 'balanced'. Apr 6, 2023 at 11:33
  • I think it makes more sense to talk about young-vs-old and male-vs-female. Others may be important also, but we declare them in this context as lower priority. I guess that "balanced" means something that is good desirable for the country (as a whole) as well as for the people - economically, socially...
    – virolino
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:40
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    Are you concerned with the Male-vs.-Female issue in relation to the after effect of China's one child policy, which indirectly lead to a disparate male to female ratio in the favor of men, and thus a problem for young men finding a wife?
    – hszmv
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:53
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    @hszmv: that is the inspiration of the question, and not the strict context.
    – virolino
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:56
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    I was going to write an answer about introducing a respiratory virus and using the media to gaslight the population and downplay its rate of severe consequences, but you said ethical and moral, so I didn't. Apr 6, 2023 at 18:47

4 Answers 4


In a liberal democracy, it's pretty much politically impossible to outright tell people how many children they should have. But there are nevertheless ways to encourage or discourage births in indirect ways.

There are several policies that aim to increase birth rates:

  • Financial incentives. Some countries give tax relieves and/or subsidies to parents. The idea is that by relieving the financial burden on parents, some people who are unsure whether they can finance raising a child will reconsider.
  • Policies that make it possible to still pursue a professional career while raising children. This includes policies like state-sponsored childcare, mandatory maximum work hours, mandatory work-from-home where possible, mandatory parenting leave and maternity leave.
  • Taking children into account during urban planning. This includes things like walkable city layouts and reserving public spaces for family recreation (parks, playgrounds, pools...). This helps to create an atmosphere where people feel that they are in a good environment to raise children.

There are also policies that reduce birth rates:

  • Provide sex education in the school system. Research shows that comprehensive sex education in school reduces the rate of teen pregnancies.
  • Make birth control easily accessible.

These policies are often considered a reason for the drastic reduction of birth-rates in Europe and North-America during the 1970s. The contraceptive pill came on the market. And sexuality became less of a taboo subject in school and in society in general, so people knew that they had the option to take it.

And besides birth rates, there is of course another way to change the demography of a country: migration. There are ways to encourag and discourage the immigration of people in certain age groups. For example, student visa programs to get young adults from abroad, work visas to get people of working age into the country and visas for the families of foreigners who are already in the country to repatriate whole families into the country.

  • There is a rather gnarly feedback in financial incentives. Government raises taxes to pay for program. Taxes increase cost of living. Plus, the administration process increases the size and cost of the govt. Increased cost of living requires more subsidy. Govt increases subsidy, requiring more taxes, etc. and etc., ever upward. Plus, so far as I have been able to find, it has not reversed the demographic trends in any country.
    – Boba Fit
    Apr 6, 2023 at 14:45
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    I'd note that only financial incentives have proven to be of much help for increasing the TFR. Urban planning and support for working mothers doesn't seem to have worked even in the most progressive European countries. Apr 6, 2023 at 17:34
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    Well, the problem with finding out whether or not a certain policy had an effect is unfortunately that it is impossible to determine just by looking at the raw numbers. There are too many factors that affect the same number. It's always possible that the situation would be even worse without these policies.
    – Philipp
    Apr 6, 2023 at 17:40
  • We do know that the only 4 countries that managed to go back above a TFR of 2.05 are not exactly known for their urban planning or support of working mothers. So even if those incentives do work, they're clearly not sufficient. Apr 6, 2023 at 18:40
  • Relevant: the policies that reduce birth rates also increase the quality of children; for example they are less likely to become drug addicts. Presumably you want fewer high-quality children to carry the elderly, rather than more drug-addicted petty thieves. Apr 6, 2023 at 18:49


If a country has insufficient workforce, but is otherwise a pleasant place to live, people from unpleasant places have an incentive to move there.

Or, alternatively, elderly people who can't find a caregiver might emigrate to a place where care is cheap.

  • You have some very good points. It would be helpful for the community (probably for me too) if you expand your answer a little, to highlight the main pro's and con's of them. +1 As we can already see, migration might have serious negative impact long term.
    – virolino
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:52
  • I would suggest looking into the population growth of retirement aged senior citizens in Arizona and Florida, which has a combination of low property values, low to no income tax (as they are living off of fixed income), and year-round favorable weather that lead to them becoming popular retirement spots.
    – hszmv
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:57
  • @hszmv: I did not know of that. Do you happen to know, maybe Arizona and Florida intentionally pursued becoming "retirement states" for some reason?
    – virolino
    Apr 6, 2023 at 12:10
  • @virolino: I think these pros and cons greatly depend on how migration is implemented. Who is allowed in? What incentives are in place? What perspectives are open to migrants? For instance, is there a path to citizenship? Can spouses/families come too? How much social mobility is there? Is there a language barrier? What about culture? There are numerous factors that can be utterly devastating or complete non-issues depending on the particulars.
    – meriton
    Apr 6, 2023 at 12:15
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    @virolino I don't think they pursued it. It just sort of happened. Both states didn't see it happen until the advent of air conditioning. And it's a chicken or egg situation of "did policies change that attracted the elderly" or "did the elderly move and thus the policies changed because of their demographic shift." I do think it was the weather that pushed it (elderly don't handle winter well and the warm weather would help with joint pains.).
    – hszmv
    Apr 6, 2023 at 12:54

A decrease in birth rates is achievable through means that most people will find agreeable. For example, through increased education, in particular making sure that it is available to women, and to all economic levels. Education usually means higher income, more awareness, and more ability to make choices. The net result is, among many other things, people can be more assured of having their children live to adulthood. They can prepare for their own old age and not depend on children to care for them. They are aware of ways to take control of such issues and can afford them. So education generally results in lowered birth rates.

Increasing birth rates is a tougher proposition. Nearly every country in the world is experiencing falling birth rates. Granted, few countries are actively trying to reverse these trends. And the few that are (China for example) have only recently started doing so. It is early to expect results.

But, if it were easy, one might expect that some countries would have found it by accident. It would be possible to pick out countries and say "that country is pleasant and they're having lots of babies."

It isn't clear that there are pleasant methods of achieving increased birth rates. For example, few people would accept returning to the conditions of a century ago when birth rates were higher. Plus, it isn't even clear it would work. The education cat is out of the bag.


a political class has no moral right to impose on its population decisions such as how many children should they have

indirectly however, since there are consequences from the externalities of excessive population, it makes sense that people should pay for them as close to the problem as possible, as they do with basic education and hospital care through taxation

indeed people already make decisions on how many children they should have based on the fact that children are no longer cheap labour and are in fact a massive liability in economic terms at least for the first couple of decades of their life, as children are not allowed to work and parent have a duty to care and to provide for State-mandated education among other things in most if not all of the industrialised world

these liabilities already constitute a large tax on children, perhaps too large in many cases as people have decided to have less than 2 per couple, leading to an aging population

the framing of this question implies that the political class has the right to decide how much population is too little or too much, rather than the very effects of population numbers on the people - removing agency from the people and assigning it to the State through the political class

at most, the political class could perhaps pose the question to the electorate, perhaps as part of an electoral programme, to take measures that would lead to different incentives to have more or less children; but I don't think this is even an issue when, as soon as the externalities of children are exposed to parents in terms of long-term liabilities from having children, the problem is that people may have too few rather than too many children

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    If it´s really just your opinion it makes the answer off topic.
    – convert
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:35
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    @muyuu: my question is about ethical influence (as well as moral), so "impose" is not really what I am after. We have to agree that the economy cannot survive without young (working) people, so when their numbers are too low, some initiative must be taken.
    – virolino
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:43
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    every answer in politics will follow one or more schools of thought, there is no objectivity in political policy other than objective adherence to a certain school of thought
    – muyuu
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:43
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    @virolino the problem with your question is that it puts the agency on the State from its very framing, rather than the responsibility on the individual
    – muyuu
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:45
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    Please consider using capitalization and punctuation in your answer.
    – shoover
    Apr 6, 2023 at 18:34

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