Barren States: The Population "Implosion" in Europe

Barren States: The Population "Implosion" in Europe

Barren States: The Population "Implosion" in Europe

Barren States: The Population "Implosion" in Europe

Synopsis

The fertility rate has dramatically declined across Europe in recent years. Globally over 64 countries have fallen below generation replacement levels and countries in eastern and southern Europe are registering the lowest birth rates in history. These developments could have serious repercussions for society and public policy--from a projected drastic loss of national population numbers to labor shortages and a swelling population of people over 65. This timely book investigates how people experience what is called.low fertility.. How do people understand their choices and the perceived limitations on their lives? What is the meaning of motherhood for women today? And what does this tendency toward fewer births mean those who ultimately become demographic statistics?

Excerpt

Listen to me, we did not know where we stood after re-unification. Many people lost
their jobs, and did not have any money. And if you have a child, how is that supposed
to work? After re-unification almost nobody had babies. It was really noticeable.
(Renate, 33, saleswoman from eastern Germany; all names are pseudonyms)

Following a baby boom in the 1960s, below-replacement declines in German fertility were first noted in both East and West Germany in the early 1970s. West Germany joined the ranks of countries with the “lowest low fertility” (below 1.3 children per woman) in the mid-1980s, an event forestalled in East Germany until after re-unification with aggressive family-friendly state policy. The current fertility rate in re-unified Germany of 1.29 (Eurostat 2003) places Germany among those European nations with lowest low fertility.

What is interesting about the German case is how its aggregate fertility rate has two narratives to tell. One narrative, the west German version, is about the contemporary opportunities and constraints that shape fertility decisions for people living in a prosperous late-capitalist nation, a story not unlike those of the central and southern European nations with lowest low fertility – Greece, Spain, Italy and Austria. The other narrative, the east German version, is about how the everyday struggles faced by people transitioning from a communist welfare state to a market economy shape fertility decisions, a story similar to other eastern European nations with lowest low fertility – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. (Throughout the text, a capitalized East and West refers to the two Germanys before unification, and a lower-case east and west refers to these regions of Germany after unification.) Germany's dual fertility narrative situates west German fertility worries as end-of-the-millennium business-as-usual concerns of an economically privileged European nation, and locates the east German Fall-of-the-Wall fertility shakeup as a product of the social tumult and confusion that accompanied life in many postsocialist nations.

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