November 26, 2019 / 3:31 PM / 11 days ago

Hungary government scheme sparks marriage boom. Will babies follow?

FILE PHOTO: Julia Scharle's daughter plays with her parents (not pictured) in Budakeszi, a western suburb of Budapest, Hungary, February 17, 2019. Picture taken February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A new Hungarian government scheme to promote marriage and childbirth with subsidized loans has already helped produce a boom in weddings, though it is still too early to say whether more babies will follow.

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made it a priority to persuade more Hungarians to marry and have children to reverse a population decline. He has introduced a number of tax benefits and other programmes to favor families.

A big new scheme this year offers couples that marry before the bride’s 41st birthday subsidized loans of up to 10 million forints ($33,000). A third of the loan will be forgiven if they go on to have two children, and the entire debt wiped out if they have three.

The central statistics office (KSH) said there had already been a 20% surge in the number of people getting married during the first nine months of this year. The number of weddings recorded was the highest over that period since 1990.

“The family incentive programme was launched as of July 1, when various new benefits were introduced ... and a precondition is that couples have to be married. So we think this is one of the key explanations,” said Gabriella Geczy, a KSH statistician.

In September alone, 29% more couples married than in the same month last year. Hungary saw the most September weddings since 1979.

Earlier this month the government said more than 50,000 couples had so far applied for the new subsidized loans.

Whether this year’s newliweds will go on to have more babies has yet to be seen. So far, the birth rate has actually fallen slightly this year, to 1.48 babies per woman, from 1.49.

Hungary, like many other European countries, especially in the formerly communist east, is struggling with a declining birth rate. Orban’s right-wing government is fiercely opposed to immigration.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Peter Graff

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