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

Friday, March 2, 2018

Economic Uncertainty Keeps Fertility Low in Italy

The rich country angst about low fertility is widespread, and often overshadows the concern about fertility levels that are higher than wanted in many less-rich nations. At the same time, if we believe that every person and every population of people should aim for replacement-level fertility, both concerns are equally important. I thought about this demographic divide as I was reading the latest publication in Demographic Research--a paper by Francesca Fiori, Elspeth Graham, and Francesca Rinesi titled "Economic reasons for not wanting a second child: Changes before and after the onset of the economic recession in Italy".

This is a very nice descriptive analysis of data drawn from ISTAT (the Italian National Institute of Statistics) surveys conducted in 2002 and 2012. The authors focus on women who have already had one child and look at which ones in each of the two surveys (before and after the Great Recession) are thinking about having a second child.
Between 2002 and 2012, the proportion of primiparous mothers in Italy intending not to have a second child increased. The economic recession appears to have played a role in shaping their negative intentions, as the proportion of mothers who reported economic constraints as their main reason increased significantly.
This raises the interesting question of whether the increase in negative fertility intentions simply reflects the higher proportion of women experiencing economic hardship. Our findings suggest that it does not, but rather that it is also the consequence of a more pervasive feeling of insecurity which has affected the wider population, including those who have not been as severely hit by the crisis. Our results show a narrowing of socioeconomic differences, which indicates a greater increase in the propensity to avert risks associated with having another child among mothers with medium or high educational levels, and even among mothers with permanent employment contracts. At the same time, age differences have become more pronounced, mainly in response to the particularly adverse effect of the economic recession on younger individuals, suggesting that personal experience of economic difficulties may be more influential among younger women.
Keep in mind that economic insecurity has been rampant among humans forever, but very low fertility is a relatively new phenomenon. Obviously, it is the relative level--the gap between expectations and reality--that is important. The authors do not get into issues for which there were no data collected in the ISTAT surveys, such as the role of patriarchy and paternalism in pushing fertility to below-replacement levels in rich countries, but they leave the door open for these kinds of discussions. 

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