Men Without Women

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 3:44 PM EDT

Europe's population is in decline. By 2050, the continent is projected to be home to at least 50 million fewer people than it is today. But the Europeans do not plan to go down without a fight.

Three years ago, the governor of Russia's Ulyanovsk region declared an annual "sex day" to give locals the chance to stay home from work and make babies for the Motherland. Women who give birth on June 12 (Russia's national day) can win prizes, such as new cars and televisions. The joy of sex apparently wasn't enough to motivate young Russians to get busy. Prizes, though, seem to have done the trick: the region's birth rate has jumped 4.5 percent over the last year.

The Russians' procreative success may now have inspired the Germans. The former East Germany has been depopulating rapidly ever since the Berlin Wall came down. Women have been leaving in droves. According to a piece in the German magazine Der Spiegel, a local politician has decided to stem the flow. Earlier this year, Klaus Mättig, mayor of the town of Freital in eastern Germany, jokingly suggested the local government should offer $2,791 to any woman who would agree to sign a three-year lease in his town. But when his comments were reported in the local newspaper, the mayor received letters from over 50 women eager to take him up on his offer:

The response was especially unexpected because Mättig's offer was only half serious. Freital, after all, has not been overly hit by the mass movement westwards and, as the mayor says, "it's not like there aren't any women on the streets here or that there are only singles wandering around." It is also unclear whether the Freital electorate would even put up with such an offer. They aren't getting paid to stay, after all...
Even if Mättig's offer never actually comes to pass, he may nevertheless be on to something. Many of the letters he received were from former eastern Germans who were dissatisfied with their new lives in the West. "I want to come back as soon as possible," one wrote. "When one leaves their home, it doesn't automatically mean that everything will be better," penned another.
The letters, though, have also made Mättig take his own idea more seriously. He has responded to every one of the inquiries received, explaining that the initiative has yet to be passed.
"But," he says, "we are going to keep the idea in mind and will take a closer look at it here at city hall."

Mättig's approach, if ever it is implemented, would surely be more effective than another effort to woo women back to the East: Wolfgang Tiefensee, the government minister responsible for economic development in eastern Germany, has suggested that the best way to keep women from leaving would be to establish mobile libraries to drive around the countryside. Nothing says "stay in East Germany and have babies with East German men" quite like a good book.