ULYANOVSK, Russia — Make a baby. Win a car.
Don’t be surprised if the streets are empty and curtains drawn in this central Russian region today as residents take up an offer by the regional governor to help stem Russia’s demographic crisis.
Ulyanovsk Gov. Sergei Morozov has decreed Sept. 12 a Day of Conception and is giving couples time off from work to procreate. Couples who give birth nine months later on Russia’s national day — June 12 — will receive money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.
It’s the third year that the Volga River region, about 550 miles east of Moscow, has held the contest. Since then, the number of competitors — and the number of babies born — has been on the rise.
“If there’s a good, healthy atmosphere at home within the family, if the husband and wife both love each other and their child, they will be in good spirits and that will extend to the workplace. So there will be a healthy atmosphere throughout the country,” he told AP Television News. “The leadership (of the country) is interested in the family.”
Russia’s population has dropped since the 1991 Soviet collapse, fed by declining birth rates, a low life expectancy, a spike in emigration, a frayed health care system and other factors. The country — the world’s largest — now has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled nations. And experts estimate the population could fall below 100 million by 2050.
Just 311 women signed up to take part in the first competition, in 2005, and qualify for a half-day off from work. The next June, 46 more babies were born in Ulyanovsk’s 25 hospitals compared with the previous June, including 28 born on June 12, officials said.
More than 500 women signed up for the contest in 2006 — resulting nine months later in 78 babies, or more than triple the region’s daily average.
So far this year, the region’s birth rate is up 4.5 percent compared with the same period last year.