No babies!

The negative population growth of Europe is well documented at this point. The New York Times two weeks ago did a great job of summarizing the situation in an extended article entitled No Babies, and outlined a number of interesting causes.

One unintended “take away” from the articles was that world population growth as a whole has been reduced to 2.9 children on average, down from a whopping 6.0 as recently as 1972. This is apparently because the vast majority of earth’s population is urban at this point, so having a huge number of children is no longer the option it was a generation ago.

Anyway, the article makes an interesting observation: educated working mothers in Europe are having more kids than stay-at-home moms. It goes hand-in-hand with masculinity issues amongst the men, and the role of the woman. Simply put: if the man is willing to give a hand, the family will end up with more kids. But if the husband is having macho issues about changing a diaper, his ultimate kid-count will be much lower.

A study released in February of this year by Letizia Mencarini, the demographer from the University of Turin, and three of her colleagues compared the situation of women in Italy and the Netherlands. They found that a greater percentage of Dutch women than Italian women are in the work force but that, at the same time, the fertility rate in the Netherlands is significantly higher (1.73 compared to 1.33). In both countries, people tend to have traditional views about gender roles, but Italian society is considerably more conservative in this regard, and this seems to be a decisive difference. The hypothesis the sociologists set out to test was borne out by the data: women who do more than 75 percent of the housework and child care are less likely to want to have another child than women whose husbands or partners share the load. Put differently, Dutch fathers change more diapers, pick up more kids after soccer practice and clean up the living room more often than Italian fathers; therefore, relative to the population, there are more Dutch babies than Italian babies being born. As Mencarini said, “It’s about how much the man participates in child care.”

Personally I find that highly amusing.

The article points out that at 2.1 children per woman, the US is actually beating it’s “replacement rate” and has a high birth rate. The author puts a positive spin on it by showing that the US has more positive attitude toward working mothers than some southern European societies (true) and that it might have to do with the US’ deeper commitment to religion (who knows.) But one thing I believe it fails to mention is the absence of a social network, which means the poverty in the US is more akin to the Third World – I’m talking about the same regions that Barack Obama described as the places where they “cling to their religion and their guns…”  Immigrants obviously contribute to a higher birth rate, but they tend to have more kids in the first generation for the same reason they had them back home – to ensure someone will be there in the future as they get older.

Anyway, here’s a tool that might help those fathers unsure of how to grow their family:

One comment

  1. pirco said:
    2008/07/31
    15:08

    BTW, my father – a former director at the Berlin Senate and chiefly responsible for the city’s adoption policy in the 90’s – created a study that showed 2.1 children to be THE replacement rate (not 2.0) due to illness, mortality and accidents.

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