Thanks to Stuart Gietel-Basten at Oxford for pointing me yesterday to an unbelievable article about Italy's Minister of Health (a woman) trying to promote a "Fertility Day" in that country, in which women are encouraged to have a baby. The program basically tries to recall the "good old days" when men worked outside the home and women stayed home and had babies. This story fits right into one from this week's Economist discussing the increasingly delayed marriages in Japan, which is closely associated with the very low fertility in that country (as in Italy). Indeed, if you look at the brand-new PRB World Population Data Sheet you will see that Italy's TFR is 1.4 children per woman, while Japan's is 1.5. If you've read my book, you know why: gender inequality. It's one thing to provide education and jobs for women. But, if you maintain the old order of gender inequality at home (and in the job as well, where it is almost impossible for women to reach the top levels in an organization), women will respond by having fewer children than they would otherwise prefer to have. This is what is going on Japan (and elsewhere in East Asia) and in Italy (and elsewhere in Southern Europe).
Here's a bit of data to go along with that statement. Two researchers from Oxford--Evrim Altintas and Oriel Sullivan--recently published a study in Demographic Research in which they look at levels and changes over time in work done at home by men and women. Their data do not include Asian countries, but we can compare Italy and Spain with, for example, the UK and USA. Spain's TFR is 1.3--even lower than Italy's--and note that both Italy and Spain have lower TFRs than Japan. The UK and USA both have TFRs of 1.8--below replacement to be sure, but not as low as Italy, Spain or Japan. Survey data show that in every country surveyed, women spent more time on "core housework" than did men, but the gap in minutes per day was 74 in the UK (i.e., women spent 74 more minutes per day than did their husbands), 65 minutes in the U.S., but 139 minutes in Spain, and 183 in Italy. The comparisons make the point that allowing women to become educated and to join the labor force without giving them equality at home is going to lower the birth rate well below the replacement level.
The answer is not to have a national "fertility day." Rather, it requires changing the culture so that men and women are treated equally in society. That may not be easy, but it is necessary.
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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