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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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Catalonia is Important to Demographic History

One of the hardest things that humans do everywhere in the world is to get along with people whose culture is different than theirs. Spain has a long history of culture clashes and the most recent is the referendum in Catalonia--in northeastern Spain--to become independent of Spain. The difference between Catalonia (whose regional capital is Barcelona) and the rest of Spain lies at the heart of our current understanding of the demographic transition. On page 85 of the 12th edition, I note that:

In the early 1960s, J. William Leasure, then a graduate student in economics at Princeton [and subsequently a Professor of Economics here at San Diego State University], was writing a doctoral dissertation on the fertility decline in Spain, using data for each of that nation’s 49 provinces. Surprisingly, his thesis revealed that the history of fertility change in Spain was not explained by a simple version of the demographic transition theory. Fertility in Spain declined in contiguous areas that were culturally similar, even though the levels of urbanization and economic development might be different (Leasure 1962). At about the same time, other students began to uncover similarly puzzling historical patterns in European data (Coale 1986). A systematic review of the demographic histories of Europe was thus begun in order to establish exactly how and why the transition occurred. The focus was on the decline in fertility, because it is the most problematic aspect of the classic explanation. These new findings have been used to help revise the theory of the demographic transition.
Those provinces that caught Bill Leasure's eye were especially the ones in Catalonia. Compare the map below of marital fertility rates in 1950 in Spain [from one of Leasure's publications] with the regional linguistic map of Spain [reproduced in a paper by Ron Lesthaeghe and Antonio Lopez-Gay]:

In the Catalan-speaking areas, marital fertility was lower than elsewhere and this was due partly to the fact that urban and rural fertility rates were both low. Elsewhere in Spain the birth rates followed the expected pattern of being higher in rural than in urban areas, but Catalonia was different. This caused demographers at Princeton at the time to rethink their approach to the demographic transition in order to take culture--not just economics--into account. Current demography theory is much more sophisticated (and complex) as a result.

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