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Barren States: The Population Implosion in Europe Hardcover – March 10, 2005
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
Winner for the Most Notable Recent Edited Collection Book Prize for 2006, Council on the Anthropology and Reproduction (CAR)'Each tightly written essay provides a challenging thesis; gives a historical and contemporary overview; marshals research scholarship; and draws an insightful and compelling conclusion. Excellent for college classes, including graduate courses, in sociology, gender studies, and European studies. Summing up: Highly recommended.'Choice Magazine (February 2006)
About the Author
Carrie B. Douglass is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Spanish at the Mary Baldwin College, USA
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As the authors point out, this decline is mostly viewed negatively by governments and the press, since they fall back on the idea of growth as a positive phenomenon, and thus, population decline is seen as national decline, despite the obvious advantage from the standpoint of relieving environmental stress. The vast majority of economic and political theories are all built upon the virtue of growth - one of the very factors identified as so dangerous when one adopts a position favoring environmentalism.
Among the fears voiced about declining population are:
Certain ethnic groups may grow faster than others, raising fears in the slower growing group (native French people vs. Arab immigrants; or American whites vs. Latinos)
A result of fewer births is that the "age pyramid" for the population shifts, meaning proportionally greater numbers of older people, who must then be supported by the relative scarcer young
Fewer people will produce fewer goods, resulting in economic decline
The authors point out that this is actually the second demographic transition for Europe: the first occurred in the period 1870-1930, when Europe's population growth dropped to near zero: a trend which actually begin in the 1600s. Now this is an interesting observation, because this suggests that the fertility decline began in an era before reliable birth control was freely available. It's easy for those of us who grew up when multiple birth control methods were available to see this as an outgrowth of this very fact: but the trend belies what would seem to be an obvious fact. Other things are going on here. The authors point out two trends: first, an increase in the age of marriage, and secondly, a decline in family size among the married. The two factors they identify as most significant are changes in the roles of children and women in society. This is the period when children went from being workers to being dependent. This changes the economy of childbearing radically. Children become a cost instead of a benefit. And as there appears to be a consistent correlation of greater education with lower numbers of children in women, the role of women must also be considered part of the same equation. Or so it seemed. The authors cite a projected headed by Ansley Coale at Princeton, which broke European demographic data down into smaller political units, which suggested that the decline in fertility did not necessarily correlate with either the economic or educational factors: that tere was a cultural decline in the desire to have more children.
While replacement levels of fertility were achieved by the 1930's, these fertility levels rose after World War II, not declining again until the 1960's and 1970's, when they began to drop seriously below replacement values, with the former Communist states following Northern (Western) Europe when the Communist governments broke down in the 1990's. What is fascinating when you examine the actual fertility rates by country is how relatively early these trends had started. If the measure is when population growth began to decline, the years are: Norway 1965, Germany 1965, Czech Republic 1965, Russia 1967, Bulgaria 1960 (or possibly earlier), Greece 1969, Italy 1966, Spain 1968, France 1965, and Ireland 1965. If the measure is dropping below the replacement value of 2.1, then the years are: Norway 1975, Germany 1970, Czech Republic 1966, Russia 1967, Bulgaria 1965, Greece 1981, Italy 1977, Spain 1981, France 1975, and Ireland 1991.
The authors of Barren States, as well as others, have identified a whole series of factors that can contribute to the fertility changes: education of women, average marriage age, age at first pregnancy, divorce rates, availability and attitudes about abortion, religion, economic incentives provided by the state, availability of child-care, living at home until marriage, quality of work, to name just some. However, the authors demonstrate that the different countries of Europe do not show any uniformity at all about the combination of factors which add up to very similar fertility rates. The one factor that remained constant - at least through the time period encompassed by the book, is that none of the states of Europe seemed to be able to even consider the question of whether a declining population might in fact be a good thing for that state long-term. That was evidently too radical a concept.
I found the field work presented in this book to be a refreshing departure from theories often presented concerning demographic data.