Steven Erlanger of the NYTimes has a very good article today reminding readers that in low-fertility societies the best way to bring birth rates back up to replacement level is to increase gender equality in all aspects of society, but especially in domestic affairs. Readers of my book will be very familiar with this notion, which I first picked up nearly 20 years ago in an article by French demographer Jean Claude Chesnais published in Population Development Review (volume 22, number 4, pp. 729-39) in which he contrasted fertility in France and Italy and noted that the lower status of women in Italy was the likely reason for Italy having a lower birth rate than France. Although both countries had opened up educational and labor force opportunities for women, once married, women in Italy were expected to be traditional stay-at-home moms, with little societal support for child care and little in-home domestic help from her husband. This pattern has also prevailed in Asia and helps to explain the very low birth rates in that part of the world, just as it does it in eastern and southern Europe.
The NYTimes story does not give you that back story, but it is a revealing article nonetheless, with good quotes from Oxford demographers David Coleman, Francesco Billari, and Stuart Gietel-Basten, as well as Swedish demographer Gunnar Andersson.
The story also notes, of course, that the wave of refugees coming into Europe will help to boost the birth rate down the road, although the effect will be relatively small because the migrants will still represent a fairly small fraction of the total population.
This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.
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