Academic journal article Demographic Research

Should Governments in Europe Be More Aggressive in Pushing for Gender Equality to Raise Fertility? the First "YES"1

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Should Governments in Europe Be More Aggressive in Pushing for Gender Equality to Raise Fertility? the First "YES"1

Article excerpt

Abstract

Together with three colleagues, I have been asked by the MPIDR to debate the following question: "Should governments in Europe be more aggressive in pushing for gender equality to raise fertility? Setting aside the "lighthearted" side of this "Rostocker Debate," (12 minutes for each speech, one minute for each comment), I saw this as a good opportunity to think about the stakes behind the question.

In order to address this complex issue, it is necessary to think about the many "preliminary questions" that we have to ponder before responding: Why should fertility be raised? Are political measures legitimate? Are they efficient? On what basis are we qualified to give "expert" opinions on such a topic?

When the question comes to the fore, we as scholars are sometimes asked to provide an answer. It would, of course, be more comfortable not to answer, but our interlocutors (politicians, journalists, teachers, and also funding agencies) often want a definite response one way or the other. Even though our position may be a matter of politics as well as a matter of science, we must give an answer.

The empirical evidence shows that European countries where gender inequality is lower are also the countries where fertility is the highest. This is the evidence-based response that we can give to that question. European countries need to find a new equilibrium after the end of the baby boom period, when gender equality was very low. In all countries, the empowerment of women is underway, thanks to the economic independence given by work-related income. Increasing gender equality is an efficient way to reduce the opportunity costs of having and raising children, and thus to increase fertility.

Finally, "pushing for gender equality" may have many positive effects other than raising fertility, and has few negative side effects. Gender equality is thus a convenient political aim per se; an institutional goal which leaves many political questions open. So, yes, we agree that governments in Europe should be more aggressive in pushing for gender equality to raise fertility!

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Preliminary questions

The question of whether governments in Europe should be more aggressive in pushing for gender equality to raise fertility is, indeed, very complicated. First, the wording of the question is based on two implicit assumptions which have to be tested: that fertility in Europe should increase, and that governments should act to raise fertility. Second, our answer as scholars is also based on two implicit assumptions: that we are qualified, and that our scientific knowledge makes our answer meaningful; and that we have the political legitimacy to answer the question.

None of these four assumptions is obviously true. Before addressing the main point, it is thus necessary to tackle these four preliminary questions about the diagnosis of fertility levels, the legitimacy of state action, the actual efficiency of pronatalist policies, and, last but not least, our legitimacy as "experts."

1.1 Is fertility too low in Europe?

1.1.1 Where is the limit: 2.1, 1.8, or 1.5?

The answer to the question of whether fertility is too low seems simple: the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman has been made very popular by demographers. If the total fertility rate is lower than this limit, then the net reproduction rate (number of daughters per woman) is lower than one, and the population decreases; if it is higher than 2.1, the population increases.

The limit of 2.1 is sometimes likened to the sea level: it does not make any difference whether you are just below or well below, because if you want to breathe you must be at this level or above. Yet pronatalist demographers living in countries where fertility is below 1.3 children per women often say that 1.8 would be good enough, or that even 1.5 would be sufficient (Golini 2003; McDonald 2003, 2005). …

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