The Low-Fertility Trap

I suppose by-now every right thinking and reasonably well read adult knows what the ‘poverty-trap’ is, even if most of us aren’t too clear about what there is to do about it. Being stuck in one of these traps could be thought to be like being stuck in a (not necessarily very deep) well with a slimy surround wall. The more you struggle to get out, the harder it gets: your strength disippates, and the walls get to be even more slippery. This could also be called a negative feedback loop.

Well now there is the suggestion that something similar may exist in the world of fertility. As Wolfgang Lutz suggests in this power point presentation, the critical level may be 1.5. No society which has fallen below this level has -to date – returned above it. (Many thanks here to commenter CapTvK who sent me the link).

One of the details which becomes rapidly apparent viewing the presentation relates to the remarkable differences which exist within the EU in terms of fertility regimes. Basically Northern Europe is by-and-large above the critical threshold, whilst Southern Europe, and Central and Eastern Europe are almost entirely ‘under water’.

Lutz defines the hypothesis, and “attempts an explanation” for the negative feedback component as follows:

How low can fertility fall?

The possible ‘low fertility trap’ hypothesis

- Observation that countries that fell below fertility level of 1.5 children have not recovered.
- Negative demographic momentum: Because of past low fertility there will be fewer potential mothers in the future.
- Economics: Gap between aspirations for consumption and expected income widens for young people due to negative consequences of ageing (cuts in social security systems, possible economic stagnation)
- Ideational change: Young people are socialized in an environment with few children and this may result in lower ideal family size in next generation.

This ‘new reality’ obviously will have some important consequences for policy. Public policy is often spoken of in terms of ‘pillars’. Well one conclusion which might be drawn is (and this now mainly applies to third world ‘developing countries’) that there is an urgent need to construct support pillars to prevent fertility dropping below 1.5 in yet more countries.

Whether this is possible or not will, to some extent, be debated in this session of the international population conference I mentioned yesterday. Unfortunately only one of the promised papers is currently posted, that of Australian Demographer Peter McDonald.

As Mcdonald argues:

Why is the policy direction changing? Because it must change. Being relaxed and comfortable about very lowbn fertility is fool-hardy and very low fertility does not go away of its own accord. Indeed, without effective action, it consolidates.”

Countries fall into two groups, those with rates above 1.5 births per woman and those below. 1.5 is an important division because it defines the safety zone for low fertility. Compared to fertility below 1.5, when fertility is above this level:

- The population will age more slowly.
- There will be a continued adequate supply of skilled young workers in future years.
- The age structure will not be marked by inefficient peaks and troughs occurring in rapid succession.
- The population will not be at risk of spiralling downward as a result of negative population momentum, and
- Young people will be able to fulfil their aspirations for family life.

While the effects of policy may be small, only a small effect is required. We are not trying to produce another baby boom. In combination with a small tempo adjustment, an increase of 0.3 in TFR would lift all countries into the safety zone of low fertility. Hence, an impact at the margin is all that is required.”

It is important to be clear what McDonald, and other like minded demographers, are saying. They are not making the *strong* claim that policy can prevent fertility dropping below the 2.1 self-reproducing level. They are saying that such policies can have an impact on the margin such that they help people avoid falling into the trap. As for those who are already in it, well……… he says, walking away and scratching his head. (Actually McDonald argues, as can be seen above, that such an approach might work, but as we have yet to see one case it is hard to judge. It is also important to bear in mind that since all this has been left so late before tackling, the most affected countries are now under severe ‘liquidity constraints’ relating to what policy can and can’t do).

Apart from the presentation quoted above, Mcdonald has given another relevant paper at the conference, in this session, the paper is entitled “Low fertility and the State” and the abstract runs like this:

Emergent from the rigid social regime of the male breadwinner model of the family, two waves of social change have subsequently had profound effects upon family formation behaviour. The first wave of change beginning in the 1960s but consolidated in the 1970s was a rapid expansion of social liberalism. The second wave beginning in the 1980s and consolidated in the 1990s was a sharp shift to economic deregulation. Both changes were state-sponsored and both have had substantial effects on the institution of the family in differing cultural and welfare environments. The period has seen the emergence of high rates of relationship breakdown and singleness and very low birth rates that are now posing challenges to social and economic futures. Yet the personal desire for intimacy and individuation through family relationships remains strong. This paper will investigate family policy approaches across varying institutional contexts that can restore the social balance.”

and here’s a highly relevant extended quote:

“Why have countries been slow to take action? Policy action on low fertility has been slow for three reasons. First, in the 1970s and 1980s, low fertility tended to be interpreted by demographers as a temporary phenomenon related to the delay of marriage and childbearing (a so-called tempo effect). Because births were merely delayed, fertility would rise at a later point when the delayed births occurred. This view was confirmed to some extent by rises in fertility in several countries (all the Nordic countries, USA, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) in the latter half of the 1980s. In other countries where fertility had fallen below 1.5 births per woman by the early 1980s (Germany, Austria, Italy), there was a complacency that low fertility would disappear of its own accord as the ?tempo? correction cut in. However, the experience of these countries has been that fertility continued to fall to even lower levels and has remained below 1.5 births per woman for more than 20 years now, almost a demographic generation. They have since been joined by other Southern Europe and by East Asian countries and most Central and Eastern European countries. Waiting for tempo is beginning to look like waiting for Godot. After 20 years of very low fertility, the damage to a country?s age structure has already been done because it is cross-sectional fertility that generates the annual number of births. Consistent with this view, Lutz et al. (2003) have argued that policy action needs to be taken to change the timing of births to earlier ages.”

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

31 thoughts on “The Low-Fertility Trap

  1. To the causes noted above, I would note that childrearing, like most economic activities, does enjoy economies of scale, both on the level of individual families and on that of communities. When the number of children in a society becomes small, the cost borne by parents in having an additional child increases.

    That said though, I do recall reading that most of the eastern bloc regimes had moderate to significant success in boosting fertility through social policy, though none of today’s European states are likely to be willing to reallocate income on the scale that was done at that time. Does anyone have numbers around to indicate whether any of those states had dipped below 1.5 TFR at any time before these policies were implemented?

  2. in france and in some scandinavian countries, the fertility rate is realatively high, around 1.9. But there is a politic will for that and it seem there is a direct correlation between the money invested by the government in “subsidairies” to provide some help(and kidengarden)) to the young couples with the bith rate (if i can find the study i will give you the link).

    perhaps can we invert this tendency in europe, i know in example that it is not easy for a german women to be at work and grow more than 1 child because the lack of kidengarden.

  3. Negative demographic momentum doesn’t make sense, BTW, if fertility = number of births per woman. A low number of births today will mean there are fewer women tomorrow but does not in itself* make those women less likely to have more than 1.5 children.

    And related to that, what does it mean to say that “countries that fell below fertility level of 1.5 children have not recovered”? That the fertility level has never risen above 1.5 again? Is France not a counter-example?

    *though the ideational and economic factors might

  4. @ Robert

    I’m not trying to make an ‘I told you so’ point, but I really think it is worth going through the Lutz presentation in the link. This is really worthwhile as it contains one of the densest (ideas per k) collections of ideas you will find on this issue. You will find on slide 15 a graphical representation of what happened in Eastern and Central Europe: they definitely head for the bottom in a dive after 1990. Hungary, interestingly has a slightly different profile from the rest, and is specifically mentioned by McDonald in the first paper linked as a country which applied pro-natality policies in the 80s with some success. You can see this clearly in the graph.

    Incidentally, it is important to differentiate here between pro-natal policies (child care, financial support, good free schooling) and male responsibility attitudes. The thing about the UK and Scandinavia is that they score high on both, East Europe scored high on the first (and then things disastrously went west), but not on the second (I will try and post on a paper about this later in the week), and the Southern Europe group which scores badly on both.

  5. @ Fredouil

    “in france”

    Yes, I specifically didn’t mention France since in this, like in so many things, it is different :).

    The French demogrpahic regime (and in fact the Catalan one which is remarkably similar) has a history of long slow decline. I think this ‘rate’ factor may be important, since it dictates the ‘magnitude’ of what is called the tempo effect.

    So France isn’t included in the categories, but is relatively healthy (demographically speaking).See the points I made to Robert, as I’m not sure in the social sense there is one regime. The midi may well be very different from the north in terms of ‘partnership’ attitudes.

  6. About the Lutz paper:

    Why does Lutz advocate a move to capital-funded pension systems ? In macroeconomic terms any pension scheme is pay-as-you go.

    “Even more, timely retirement should be encouraged”
    I usually understand “timely” to means “Early” ? Or should that be “At the defined retired age” ?

    Does the “Support ratio” refer to old people only, or to all dependents (children, handicapped etc.) ? I note that the Chinese ratio only refers to Old Age dependence ratios. And it assumes anyboy over 15 to work ?

    Did Jugoslavia publish fertility rates per province in the 1960′s (Slovenia) ?

    Hungary doesn’t look significantly different from other Eastern European countries to me in the charts.

    Where are the data for fertility differences by education in developed countries ?

    What is “Centrally Planned Asia” ?

    What has the Tsunami to do with all this ?

    Maybe the talk was full of good ideas. The PDF presentation looks like a wild mish-mash.

    And an overall question: What is special about a birth rate of 1.5 per woman ? Most discussions I have seen refer to 2.x children pre woman (the stable reproduction number) as the critical value.

  7. @ Ray

    “Negative demographic momentum doesn’t make sense”

    Oh, I’m afraid it does, and if we look at the two countries that have the lowest momentum (Germany and Japan) and the economic consequences this is having we can see that it matters too.

    “BTW, if fertility = number of births per woman. A low number of births today will mean there are fewer women tomorrow but does not in itself* make those women less likely to have more than 1.5 children.”

    Yes, I understand (I think) your issue. To get to grips with this I think we need to distinuish between a static and a stationary population. A stationary population is one which doesn’t change its size, but may change its age structure. 2.1 isn’t necessarily a magic number to produce a stationary population, this depends on rate of morbidity and longevity.

    The idea of a static population is about momentum. A population with a momentum of 1.0 is one which is ‘balanced’ in that there are no ongoing generational effects. Momentum is about cohorts, and generations. Most third world countries have above 1 momentum, since the generations below the end of child bearing age are still sufficiently bigger than those which are above it, that the population would still have a large increase due to this effect, even were they now at TFR 2.1 (which, of course most aren’t, although TFRs are coming down surprisingly quickly).

    So a country like Germany, even if it were to get back to the 2.1 level (which seems virtually excluded, at least within a meaningful time horizon) would still have negative momentum as the smaller generations work they way through. This is why expressions like ‘population melt down’ get used.

    “make those women less likely to have more than 1.5 children.”

    No, this is a misunderstanding, I hope it is now clear why. No such assumption is needed.

    “That the fertility level has never risen above 1.5 again? Is France not a counter-example?”

    Not the case I’m afraid. France has never been near 1.5. See slide 12 in the Lutz presentation. Belgium had a close shave in or around 1984, as did Sweden in the mid 90s. Looking at the slides Denmark might be a counter example in the mid 80s. (Mental note: check on that), but in general the case holds, and remember this was before we hit the new state ‘liquidity constraints’ which made child support much easier than it will be now. Why the hell all this was allowed to happen without public debate might be one question you might like to ask your elected representatives.

  8. @ khr

    Qusestions, questions, questions.

    I can’t answer them all, I’m not Lutz’s ‘paid represenative :) but I’ll do my best.

    “Why does Lutz advocate a move to capital-funded pension systems ? In macroeconomic terms any pension scheme is pay-as-you go.”

    I’ll try and deal with this topic in a piece later in the week on structural reforms. (I know you’re a regular reader :) ). I’d rather stick to the straight population questions on this post. This is all to do with the idea of an actuarially neutral pensions system.

    “”Even more, timely retirement should be encouraged”
    I usually understand “timely” to means “Early” ? Or should that be “At the defined retired age” ?”

    Er, I think timely would probably mean 67 and rising. (He was in Brussels the other week explaining about this).

    “Did Jugoslavia publish fertility rates per province in the 1960′s (Slovenia) ?”

    Almost certainly. Demographers study regional variations a lot. And the old ‘eastern countries’ seem to have kept a lot of stats. I am keeping my eyes out for stuff on the old DDR, which has to be another interesting case.

    “Hungary doesn’t look significantly different from other Eastern European countries to me in the charts.”

    Well the difference isn’t enormous,but if you notice it went under 2.0 around 1980 and declined relatively slowly till 1992, then it rejoined the ‘peloton’. The Hungarian govt also thought it was different, and that is why they took specific measures.

    “Where are the data for fertility differences by education in developed countries ?”

    Don’t know off hand, but I have seen studies which suggest that the more education the less children (obviously in the third world) but much more to the point in context of moving up the value chain and human capital in ‘information societies’. There is a trade-off, and there are no ‘free lunches’.

    Mathew Doepke did a comparative study on Brazil, S Korea and the poverty trap which showed convincingly to my mind that when you raise compulsory education fomr primary to secondary you trigger a change in fertility regime which breaks the poverty trap in a third world setting.

    “What is “Centrally Planned Asia” ?”

    Guessing, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, probably ‘central asia’ – Uzbekistan etc.

    “What has the Tsunami to do with all this ?”

    This one is interesting. Lutz works in a sytems theory tradition, he looks at feedback and inter-linkages. Obviously the Tsunami was an assymetric population shock in parts of Indonesia etc. This will have consequences for demography in the region. Looking at what they might be could be important. I think this is another of his projects.

    “Maybe the talk was full of good ideas. The PDF presentation looks like a wild mish-mash.”

    I think it was a summary of his research, really I am filling in the dots :).

    “And an overall question: What is special about a birth rate of 1.5 per woman ? Most discussions I have seen refer to 2.x children pre woman (the stable reproduction number) as the critical value.”

    This is the key point. 2.1 is the ‘golden number’ for the ideal static society, but this is long gone for most EU societies. 1.5 is the what you could calling ‘breaking point’, the ‘point of no return’ (at least under the time horizon which matters). Once you drop below that and you stay there, you’re gone, in a demographic sense. Meltdown sets in. Of course Bofinger says this isn’t important, and that’s why I don’t respect him. He is doing nothing to prepare your co-citizens. This is Germany we are talking about here Karl.

  9. @ everyone

    Please feel free to ask questions. I am an economist not a demographer, so my answers won’t be perfect, but I have read a lot of demographic material, and have had to try and understand it, so that may help me to explain.

    Incidentally, as I mentioned to KHR, Lutz was in Brussels only recently explaining all this to a ministerial conference on ageing (I will try and post on this) so he isn’t just some crank. This is serious business.

  10. Negative demographic momentum makes sense in that if there are fewer children born today, there will be fewer women of child-bearing age in 20 years. That much is obvious.
    But the claim that a fertility rate below 1.5 today will lead to a fertility rate of below 1.5 in twenty years can’t be explained by demographic momentum, which is my point.
    So there’s no reason for 1.5 to be a magic number, as opposed to a statistical artifact – pick any curve and there’ll be a low point.
    I have to agree with the other poster that says the presentation is a mess, it seems to jump about all over the place. Which is not to say it doesn’t contain useful information, or couldn’t have been the basis for a good talk.

  11. I still see no good reason in the data why 1.5 should be something of a magic number. On generally down-sloping curves, just about any level can be defined as a point of no return.

    According to his own data, Denmark is a counterexample, from 1980 – 1988 it was below 1.5, and now is around 1.8

    Finland, Portugal, Sweden and the Netherlands have moved briefly below 1.5. Germany has an upward trend from below 1.5

    BTW Being an adviser to a ministerial committee does not automatically imply not being a crank :-)
    Pick your favourite government/EU madness as an example where minister got advice from cranks.

  12. @ Ray

    “That much is obvious.”

    Okay, okay now I understand better what you are trying to say.

    “But the claim that a fertility rate below 1.5 today will lead to a fertility rate of below 1.5 in twenty years can’t be explained by demographic momentum, which is my point.”

    Well this depends what the feedback mechanisms are. It also depends on what the word ‘explained’ means. (This week we are really getting into causality, what does ‘Iraq was or wasn’t a factor mean?: sorry Ray, this is a side issue with other posts). OK, is there a causal connection?

    Well there might be but first lets look at what is causing the decline. We are in a so-called demographic transition. This is really all part of one gigantic wave which starts out at the end of the 18th century in the UK.

    You can get more info on this side in the Greg Clarke paper which you will find linked to in the middle right right of my demography page (Origins of the Industrial Revolution and European Marriage Patterns). This would be the first example in modern history of what Lutz and Co call a ‘tempo effect’.

    See slide 18 for a simple illustration of this.

    Another paper at the conference (which is in French and technical) addresses the question as to what the components of the current stage of the transition are. This is Fertility Trends in Europe
    by Daniel Devolder (who seems to work just round the corner from me :) ). Here is the abstract:

    Total fertility had continuously decreased in Europe since the end of the 1960s until mid 1990s, and is remaining almost stable since. In this paper we will show that this evolution is mainly due to the role of two factors: the postponement of the age at firstchildbearing and the rise of childlessness. On the contrary, we will show that the change in the fertility of families, or parents, was much less instrumental in the decrease of total fertility. The fertility of parents is even increasing in the recent period in some Western and Northern European countries, while childlessness is still growing, and the latter evolution explains why total fertility is now stagnant.

    That is there is the tempo and the fertility factor. The two are interrelated, since the tempo factor is simply a result of higher age at first child, and the postponement that this involves is what produces the fact that more women are unable to have children due to fertility issues. In fact women who have children normally have them at or around the 2.1 rate.

    So the question is, what would make this situation unwind? Well….. more assisted reproduction (of the kind that in Italy – one of the worst affected countries – they just decided to make more difficult) would be one way (Spain, which is another badly hit country, where the laws are more liberal, is second after the US in the numver of international adoptions).

    Lowering the age of first child (see slide on tempo) would be another. The first factor (assisted fertility would seem unlikely at present to become big enough to matter enormously) and a reduction in first child age seems also unlikely – before the crash.

    I say before the crash, because obviously those societies which have below 1.5 and stay there will crash. Economically speaking I mean. And unfortunately the negative feedback factors in terms of how you pay for the ageing, and have children at a younger age are a real headache. So I would say that it is quite ‘doable’ to offer a causal structure about why we shouldn’t expect any dramatic increase in fertility (without large scale immigration), and I would say the onus is on the others to demonstrate that it will happen.

    At the end of the day it depends whether you think the process is homeostatic, and over what time window.

    “So there’s no reason for 1.5 to be a magic number, as opposed to a statistical artifact – pick any curve and there’ll be a low point.”

    Yes, but what we need in order to convince ourselves are the woefully lacking counter examples (otherwise we are reduced to faith, or opinion) or some very closely reasoned argumentation.

    I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: this isn’t a theoretical debate about what may or what may not happen in 2050, It’s a debate about what *is* happening now (look at Germany and Japan) and what is starting to happen in Italy (the economic consequences of all this). Or is it just a strange co-incidence that in any society which starts to age beyond a certain threshold the monetary transmission mechanism breaks down (just the ECBs term for thee fact that interest rate policy no longer works the way it did) and that domestic consumption goes flat all of a sudden?

    “I have to agree with the other poster that says the presentation is a mess, it seems to jump about all over the place. Which is not to say it doesn’t contain useful information, or couldn’t have been the basis for a good talk.”

    Ok. I yield. If two or more people say something it must be true :). But don’t blame Lutz, blame me. I’m sure it was never intended for the use to which I have put it. And read the McDonald (second) paper.

  13. @ khr

    Firstly I forgot this:

    “Does the “Support ratio” refer to old people only, or to all dependents (children, handicapped etc.) ? I note that the Chinese ratio only refers to Old Age dependence ratios. And it assumes anyboy over 15 to work ?”

    I think the terminology is that the ‘support ratio’ is used to describe the old age dependency, and dependency ratio the sum of children and elderly.

    “I still see no good reason in the data why 1.5 should be something of a magic number.”

    Well I’ve tried at some length with ray, so I won’t repeat myself, I don’t think its a magic number, I think it may be what the chaos theorists call an ‘attractor’, and the momentum needed to break away from it may be just too great. Still the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, come see me three or four years from now and repeat what you just said :).

    Actually, come back tomorrow for the next in this post series.

    “BTW Being an adviser to a ministerial committee does not automatically imply not being a crank :-)”

    No, obviously I agree (someone put Otmar Issing in charge of the euro :) ). The thing is you can reason from first principles, or you can argue from authority (peer reviewed papers etc), I was trying a version of the latter :), most of my argument is the former.

    I think the best way of validating this would have someone appear on the evening news saying: ‘According to a recently discover fact……’ :).

  14. Edward:

    A question I sometimes ask myself, and wonder whether it is even answerable, is whether the end-phase of the demographic transition was involved in any historical episodes of a previously vigorous economy collapsing.

    The episodes that seem most suspicious to me are the Roman Empire from AD 50-250, Song China from AD 1000-1200, and the Abassid Caliphate from AD 1000-1200.

    In places where a significant cross-section of society is buried, archaeologists can sometimes reconstruct the population structure of the living from the age-at-death distribution. I don’t know whether anyone has ever published results for these economies, though.

  15. There’s one more recent episode Robert. The Dutch republic at the end of the “golden age” 1600-1670. During the 18th century the Netherlands went into a long period period of slow decline (100-160 years). We remained relatively rich thanks to some sound investments but that didn’t prevent poverty creeping back in. By the time Napoleon invaded there wasn’t much left.

  16. @ Robert

    “A question I sometimes ask myself, and wonder whether it is even answerable, is whether the end-phase of the demographic transition was involved in any historical episodes of a previously vigorous economy collapsing.”

    Oh Robert, music to my ears. Studying this one, and the role of migration in history, is how I would willingly sign on the bottom line as a way of passing the years of my old age (if I am to have any). Right now unfortunately I am still preoccupied with trying to understand the here and now.

    I think there is a lot of evidence to suggest population boom-busts as a driving force for something. In all those conquering waves, just where did all the people come from?

    And Rome, how many generations of able bodied young men was Rome able to export?

    Of course the dynamics seem to have been different. Booty coming home seems have been the means of supporting the standard of living which propped up fertility (or, to be clear, reduced mortality). And of course when the booty stops coming, the ‘home’ regime crashes.

    Looked at over the long reach of history there obviously are homeostatic processes that stabilise population ecology (the European family regime would be one example, with later marriage as form of birth control. In more recent times breast feeding in parts of Africa might be another).

    The issue in the end is not that we won’t find a new equilibrium, but rather how long this will take, and what might happen in the meantime.

    If financial markets are any guide, what goes over the top (overshoots, bubbles) at one end, tends then to go under the bottom at the other. If you look at the whole process of the demographic transition as a single ecological event, you can see that there has been massive ‘overshoot’. Now we’ll see what this produces.

  17. “”I have to agree with the other poster that says the presentation is a mess, it seems to jump about all over the place. Which is not to say it doesn’t contain useful information, or couldn’t have been the basis for a good talk.”

    Ok. I yield. If two or more people say something it must be true :). But don’t blame Lutz, blame me. I’m sure it was never intended for the use to which I have put it. And read the McDonald (second) paper.”

    I really must give Edward a hand here! :)

    This presentation is intended as a roadshow for the IIASA institute (The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) e.a. a general presentation for the public on what sort stuff the academics actually do there. They do a lot more than just population studies including technology, new energy sources, pollution (RAINS model), negotiation&interaction strategies etc…

    Not everything they do may be directly relevant now but some of it is quite important in the mid/long term.

  18. Another comment in relation to the drop in the TFR of Eastern European countries: emigration. In the 1990′s Western Europe was seeing a massive influx of legal (and illegal) immigrants. I’ve read articles that there about 2 million Rumanians (age cohort 15-35) working in western Europe legal or illegal alone.

    Edward,
    Have there been any papers about the impact of emigration of fertility levels in Eastern Europe?

  19. All this makes fascinating reading. I look forward to the next installments. There are overlapping issues which makes for a really confusing discussion.

    I have seen studies which suggest that the more education the less children (obviously in the third world) but much more to the point in context of moving up the value chain and human capital in ‘information societies’. There is a trade-off, and there are no ‘free lunches’.

    Lord Owen once said of Keith Joseph that it was foolish to have combined sex and class in that fatal Birmingham speech, given that these are the two things the British are most hypocritical about. The rejoinder might be ? what else is there? But perhaps this is not a new problem linked to the information society; Consider the Romans at the end of the Republic and thereafter, who were seriously worried about natality amongst the senatorial classes, and took steps to correct it.

    The French allocations familiales were by 1938 explicitly geared to promote general natality, whereas the Swiss are only just getting around to a system that is not based mainly on tax incentives. The French system today seems to cover both approaches and actually includes real support for nannies, unlike the British system which has such a low income threshold as to be meaningless. The groups in France campaigning for an even better deal don?t know they?re born, as the phrase has it. There?s a useful resource on the evolution of the French system here

    So one question we need to decide is about priorities. Is the real danger to natality the deterrent effect of a threat of poverty in large families, or is it simply that the better educated and wealthier don?t breed enough because they?re not given sufficient incentives to do so, in terms of tax benefits and support for their lifestyle? Secondly, since part of the issue is the problem highlighted in the presentation; an excess of what is know so ungallantly as elderly prima gravida, (especially amongst the middle classes?), which of the two approaches ? tax benefits and higher support thresholds or lump sum payments ? will best reverse the trend? I think we need some female input here.

    Just because we accept that taxation in general should serves a redistributive social purpose does not preclude the odd exception in the allocation of spending in order to pursue other social desiderata. But since the young of the middle classes have usually not demonstrated their earning power yet, and since we do not want to encourage them to defer reproduction until they have, perhaps some other criterion is necessary ? we can hardly adopt the Roman classification of society into orders.

  20. “There are overlapping issues which makes for a really confusing discussion.”

    Confusing in the sense of ‘atonal’, ‘polychromatic’ (ie complex) I take it. Confusing, in the interesting a-poriatic sense of the word :).

    [Aporia: Greek, difficulty of passing, from aporos, impassable : a-, without; + poros, passage; in Indo-European Roots.]

    ‘Impenetrable’ in negative argot.

  21. “I’ve read articles that there about 2 million Rumanians (age cohort 15-35) working in western Europe legal or illegal alone.”

    That’s unlikely. Romania’s total population is ~21 million. 2 million abroad would mean 1 out of 10 Romanians, or about 1 out of 3 in the 15-35 cohorts.

    One million Romanians is the number usually thrown around here in Romania, and it seems like a more plausible figure. Still quite a lot.

    – The two European countries with the most emigrants seem to be Albania and Moldova. In the case of Moldova, the numbers may well approach 1 out of 3 young adults. But it’s the extreme case.

    Doug M.

  22. “or is it simply that the better educated and wealthier don?t breed enough because they?re not given sufficient incentives to do so, in terms of tax benefits and support for their lifestyle?”

    I think this is the one John. The arrival of the pill, emancipation, crashing through the glass ceiling (as opposed to the mirrored one, Oh, that would be Lampton :) ). The opening of career opportunities, taking all that education potential beyond the age of 18. This is the issue, and the declining fertility that goes with trying to have the children later in life. So, if you want a ‘targeted intervention’ this is where it would have to come.

    The point is a country like Britain has the luxury of still being able to do something, since the demography is still not catastrophic. When I speak of ‘liquidity constraints’ I am applying a theory which has been developed to describe individual behaviour to the state/society level. Italy simply cannot finance this kind of policy, since its level of indebtedness is already too high (and about to get worse), it’s difficult to see what is the way out there. What the UK needs is ‘just in time’ natality.

  23. “The two European countries with the most emigrants seem to be Albania and Moldova. In the case of Moldova, the numbers may well approach 1 out of 3 young adults. But it’s the extreme case.”

    These numbers are, as you say, dramatic. What needs to be pointed out perhaps is that *some* of these migrants are temporary. It is, if you will, offshoring in reverse. Even in the cases of those who will stay the course, remitances are important over the first years, so what they are doing is taking the labour to the capital. However all this raises issues of long run sustainability.

    Bulgaria has a lot of migrants out too. It is very hard to get accurate numbers. Even the census may not help because people who are ‘temporarily’ out may still be classified as residents. Also the governments try to play down the exodus. You should know better about Romania, but 2 million wouldn’t be impossible judging by Bulgaria where there may be anything up to a million out from a population of 8-9 million. Pensions is one of the issues. The young go out to work to send money back to their elderly dependent relatives.

    Incidentally, in the Madrid bombings, the non-national group most affected were the Romanians. There really are a lot in Spain.

  24. @John Montague
    …a threat of poverty in large families, or is it simply that the better educated and wealthier don?t breed enough…

    I see some questionable implications here:

    Do you mean this at the society level (poor vs.rich countries) or at the level of individual families ?

    And please, why should you give preference for one or the other ?

    Reproduction level would be 2.x children per family. Do you call that “large” ?

    An issue not adressed is divorce rates and the poor porspects of children outside full families.

    Just because we accept that taxation in general should serves a redistributive social purpose does not preclude the odd exception in the allocation of spending in order to pursue other social desiderata.

    You seem to prefer taxation as a resdistributive tool to direct payments. Is taxation preferable in principle, and why ?

  25. Confusing in the sense of a constipation of ideas : ) yes, that?s what I meant, in terms of my own post anyway. I?m still not clear why the links don?t work, for a start.

    Plenty of questionable assumptions too. Concerning large families, one should not assume that an average 2.1 children is going to be achieved without a percentage (10-15% ?) of families having 4 or 5 kids, and without active child support, there?s a risk to those families of falling into poverty. Do the statistics show that the number of larger families is the most pronounced area of decline, or is the sharpest problem a shift in the mode ? i.e more families having 1 kid rather than 2 ? Or is the most detectable change in the other tail ? people with no kids at all? There are policy implications for how pro-natality resources are targeted.

    Generally a support policy like Switzerland?s with the emphasis on tax allowances favours the rich, whereas per child payments (relatively) favour the poor. Support for nannies is good for those who can afford a nanny in the first place ? and for busy professional women who want to stay in work despite a large family, since it incorporates some domestic labour. Free cr?ches are more widely relevant ? but not if the problem we most want to solve is the relative infertility of the better educated. I think all this would have been clearer if I hadn?t tried and failed to imbed the links.

    A while ago, in an argument elsewhere with Bulgarian nationalists, I posted this study http://www.ilo.org/public/english/protection/migrant/download/imp/imp39.pdf which looked at the composition of Bulgarian emigration and return migration. I can see why the Government wants to play down the emigration, and stress the return migration of non-Turks. There is popular anxiety about the country being ?taken over by Gypsies?. Note the out-of-the-blue success of Ataka in the elections.

  26. Here is an extensive discussion of the German situation (in German):

    http://www.bib-demographie.de/info/bib_broschuere2.pdf

    Lots of interesting points, both historically (e.g. the effect of the Great Depression on the Birth rate was similar to the World Wars) and about the present situation.

    For example, a large percentage of women have no children, while those that do get children tend to have more than one.

  27. Actually that’s compatible with what the author of the rather tough French report Edward posted seems to come to conclude: that it’s all the fault of the cohort that doesn’t have any kids at all – and everybody else is behaving normally (as per historical patterns); but I’m not sure if my interpretation is correct.

  28. People with 4 – 5 kids are or loaded or immigrants or religious nuts or white trash. To believe that there is a lot of support for helping the last three groups is foolish. Especially for the last group there is more a call for eugenics than for child support.

  29. An issue not adressed is divorce rates and the poor porspects of children outside full families.

    Just because pen we accept that taxation in general should serves a redistributive social purpose does not preclude the odd exception in the allocation of spending in order to pursue other social desiderata.

  30. @ everyone

    I’d just like to thank you all for participating in a lively and fruitful discussion. You may wonder why I bother putting so much energy into these threads. I think the answer is simple, it helps get things clearer in my mind. When there is civilised debate you can see all the objections and holes in the theories.

    On this. I would say Ray’s objection which I didn’t initially grasp, and which was in a different way articulated by Hektor on the parrallel Rusian Demography thread, is an important one. What they are really asking for is an explanation of why TFRs won’t climb up again in the relevant time window. This objection hasn’t been answered here. What we have done is define the terms, and these may now be used to explore the argument further. I think there are reasons why this inability to make a comeback might be the case, and I will try and explore these in a separate post after the holdidays.

    I think, in scientific terms, once you notice a repeat phenomenon – like people ‘going under’ and not coming back – it is a valid procedure to begin to formulate a hypothesis. However to go from this hypothesis to a full blown theory you need more, you need reasons, and eventually you need models. It is this ‘more’ that is being worked on as you read. Have a good summer everyone.