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.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Will Childlessness in Europe Get Back to Historical Levels?

Thanks to the folks at The Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital in Vienna for linking us to a paper just posted online by INED in France focusing on childlessness in Europe. Éva Beaujouan, Tomáš Sobotka, Zuzanna Brzozowska, Kryštof Zeman have put together a very nice article titled "Has childlessness peaked in Europe?" This paper does a beautiful job of putting childlessness in historical context in Europe. I can't tell you how many times I have read that childlessness in Europe is evidence that Europe is "dying" and that there is no hope. Well, guess what? We aren't yet back to the high levels of childlessness that prevailed in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here's the graph of the historical pattern:


Women born in 1900 were much more likely to have remained childless than women born in 1968, and yet Europe survived the 20th century without a precipitous population decline. What's the answer now to reverse the current upward trend in childlessness? If you've read my blog even as recently as two days ago, you'll know the answer, because Japan's experience is not unlike some of the European countries, especially the southern European nations.
Two sets of factors are most prominent in explaining the recent rise in (involuntary) childlessness. First, precarious labour market conditions and limited public spending on families with children in many parts of Europe make the decision to become parents di cult for both men and women. Second, the rapid increase in full-time employment among women has not always been matched with childcare and leave policies allowing them to reconcile their career and family plans, or with a stronger investment on the part of their male partners and a better gender balance in the household. Not surprisingly, it is in southern European countries where di cult labour market conditions are compounded by relatively low domestic gender equality and limited options for women to reconcile work and family life, that childlessness has increased most rapidly in recent years.
It all comes down to the status of women. In the modern world, an INCREASE in the status of women is likely to increase marriage and childbearing rates, rather than the often hinted at solution of returning to the old "traditional" ways in which lower status for women forced them into lives of childbearing, whether wanted or not. 

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