BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A new Hungarian government program to promote marriage and childbirth with subsidized loans has already contributed to a marriage boom, 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 population decline. It has put in place a number of tax breaks and other programs to help families.

A major new program this year provides couples who marry before the bride’s 41st birthday with subsidized loans of up to 10 million forints ($ 33,000). One-third of the loan will be forgiven if they have two children, and the entire debt will be forgiven if they have three.

The Central Bureau of Statistics (KSH) said there had already been a 20% increase in the number of people getting married in the first nine months of this year. The number of registered marriages was the highest over this period since 1990.

“The family incentive program was launched on July 1, when various new benefits were introduced… and a prerequisite is that couples must be married. So we think that’s one of the key explanations, ”said Gabriella Geczy, KSH statistician.

In September alone, 29% more couples got married than in the same month last year. Hungary has seen the highest number of September marriages since 1979.

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

It remains to be seen whether this year’s newlyweds will have more babies. So far, the birth rate has actually declined slightly this year, to 1.48 babies per woman, from 1.49.

Hungary, like many other European countries, especially in the once 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