Day of Conception gives Russians time off to make babies

Associated Press

ULYANOVSK, Russia &#8212 Make a baby. Win a car.

Don’t be surprised if the streets are empty and curtains drawn in this central Russian region Wednesday as residents take up an offer by the 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, 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 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.

“I don’t think people get pregnant just to get a prize on the 12th [of June] but if the dates coincide and they give you a … car there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Yuri, a 28-year-old father-to-be who declined to give his last name.

Last year, President Vladimir Putin called the demographic crisis the country’s most acute problem and announced a broad effort to boost the birthrate, including cash subsidies for couples giving birth to more than one child.

In Ulyanovsk, everyone who has a baby in a local hospital on June 12 gets some kind of prize. The winners of the grand prize – a locally made SUV called a UAZ-Patriot – are couples judged by a committee on criteria such as “respectability” and “commendable parenting.”