Sunday, April 13, 2008

Familiarism in Italy - Dying From An Excess of Love?

"Italians have fewer children because they 'love them too much' and not the other way around" Rossella Palomba, Italy, The Invisible Change

Italy went to the polls last weekend. Manuel Alvarez has a good summary of the election process on Global Economy Matters (and a full page over at Election Resources on the Internet on Italy's electoral system), while I have carried out an in-depth economic analysis on the same blog. Basically Italy's economy has been the worst performing of the OECD economies over the last decade - and by some distance.

Italy is thus topping lists worldwide as the developed economy in the worst economic shape. The country came last in terms of labor productivity - a key measure of economic growth and competitiveness - in a recent inter-country comparison carried out by the 30-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. No other developed economy has just been through three recessions in five years (2000 - 2005 and now heading into its fourth) and Italy is in fact coming to look more and more like the Japan of the "lost decade" - even down to the huge increase in the government debt to GDP ratio (currently around 103%). It is clear that Italy is now saddled with a whole plethora of economic problems that are holding it back, not the least of them its loss of overall competitiveness.

But Italy's export dependence and growth lethargy is not simply a result of the fact that Italy has not reformed sufficiently and as a consequence has become uncompetitive (the standard "institutions matter" explanation, which is of course valid as far as it goes), Italy's problems also need to be seen in the context of her rapidly ageing population, since it is this phenomenon which lies behind the ongoing lack of "gusto" in Italy's domestic consumption and it is precisely this consumption weakness in the context of non-competitve exports which makes Italy whole growth and debt position so unstable - and this is the part the "standard explanation" normally misses, and indeed this lethargic domestic consumption growth is what separates Italy from other - younger - current account deficit running economies like Spain (which is surely hardly any more "competitive" at the export level, indeed arguably it is a lot less so, as we may be about to see as the housing boom steadily disintegrates). Yet Spain has, of course, enjoyed rather stellar economic growth for as long as it had its housing bubble, so another way of putting the question might be to ask why Italy didn't get a housing bubble, even though it had exactly the same monetary conditions - thanks to the euro and the ECB - as Spain did.

It's The Demography, Silly!

Well, one of the features of Italy's present economic malaise which many comentators fail to dwell on in their otherwise illuminating analyses is the underlying long-term demography, and underlying that demography is Italy's long term fertility, since it is this, when coupled with the ongoing rise in life expectancy, which means that the Italian population is now one of the oldest on the planet.

Fertility in Italy is, as is very well known I imagine, currently running at very low levels - the US census bureau estimate a 1.29 TFR for 2007. What is possibly less well known is that Italian fertility has been below replacement for 30 years now, and the fertility rate is still stubbornly resisting upward movement.

But within the uniformity encapsulated in the national TFR there lies difference, and in Italy's case the differences are important since regional variations in demographic, economic, and social patterns have been - and are - pronounced. Fertility first fell to replacement level in parts of the North beginning with the 1910 birth cohort, while as late as the early 1980s the TFR in a number of southern regions was still above replacement level, with the highest (2.3) being found in Campania (whose capital is Naples). At that time the TFR was 1.1 in the northeastern region of Liguria, and below 1.2 in Emilia-Romagna in the center (capital Bologna). Over the last two decades of the 20th century, while fertility in northern and central Italy has remained more or less stable, the southern regions have had continuing sharp declines in fertility. By the turn of the century Campania, although still having the highest fertility nationally, had a TFR of only 1.5, while Sardinia, which is normally known for its economic underdevelopment, rugged terrain, and traditionalism, and which in 1960 had the highest TFR in Italy (3.5), had Italy’s lowest fertility (1.04).

Labour Force Participation and Fertility in Italy

Sardinia’s 2003 TFR of 1.06 was registered in a region where only 58% of the women in the 25-34 age group (and 55% in the 35-44 one) were in the labor force. By contrast, Trentino, the Northeastern region with the second highest fertility rate in the whole of Italy (TFR=1.46), had a female labour force participation rate of 76% in the 25-34 age group. In short, detailed cross-sectional examination of the relationship between female labour force participation (FLFP) and fertility across the Italian regions offers little support for economic-emancipation theory as a general explanation of low fertility.

In fact just this was the conclusion reached in what is a useful and interesting working paper(published 2006) - Italy’s path to very low fertility: the adequacy of economic and second demographic transition theories - by David Kertzer, Michael White, Laura Bernardi and Giuseppe Gabrielli. The authors examine a variety of competing economic and cultural explanations for Italy's ongoing low fertility -and draw on recent longitudinal data to investigate the timing of first unions, and first and second births. Their event-history analysis offers some support for BOTH the cultural and the economic theories of family formation and fertility, but as they argue most forcefully, the extent of regional differences and of secularization suggests that each explanation is at best incomplete on its own.

They find, for example, that women in the North of Italy are much more likely to be in the paid labor force than those in the South: in the mid- 1990s, 64% of women aged 20-49 in the northwest, but only 36% in the South, did paid work. Even more strikingly, 41% of the southern women had never been in the labor force, compared to only 7% of those in the Northwest. Indeed, the increase in FLFP has been quite modest in the South, with the proportion of women who had ever entered the labor force rising only from 41% among those born before 1929 to 51% in the 1944-58 birth cohort (compared to 84% in the North) and little sign of any increase since then. Among women with children under age six in the mid-1990s, 62% of the northerners and only 31% of the southerners were employed. In a 1998 national sample survey which asked individuals if they had ever been in the paid labor force the persistence of strong regional differences, and particularly the North-South contrast, was clear since in the South 50% of the 1941-50 birth cohort had never entered the labor force, while in the North only 20% had not had some sort of job or other.

The Kertzer et al research is of some general interest given that theorists have often presented us with two rival "paradigmatic" explanations - one economic and the other cultural - in an attempt to account for the arrival of below replacement fertility in one developed society after another since the 1970s. On the one hand many scholars have argued that ultra-low fertility could be straightforwardly explained by the massive entry of women into the extra-domestic labor force. Others have remained unconvinced that a purely economic approach is sufficient, and have suggested that underlying and ongoing culture change has been the key driver generating very low fertility. In just this vein, Second Demographic Transition (SDT) theorists have pointed changing cultural values associated with a move away from "familism" toward self realization and from religious attachments toward secularism as the key driving factors.

In this context the emergence of Italy and Spain as the countries with lowest-low fertility has proved something of an embarrassment for SDT theorists. Indeed, it would have been hard to find two European societies whose characteristics fitted in so badly with either of the main theories. Far from having particularly high rates of female labor force participation (FLFP) as the economically oriented theory would have predicted, both have had unusually low rates, and far from having weak family bonds and weak religious institutions, the countries had some of the strongest family ties and what appeared - on the surface at least - to be among the most influential church institutions in Europe.

Evidently Italy’s situation as one of the lowest fertility level societies in Europe does not correlate with a relatively high women’s labor force participation rate, but quite the reverse. In 1990, just as Italy was about to reach "poll position" as having the lowest fertility rate in Europe, its FLFP rate for the central age group 25-54 was 54%, compared to an EU-15 average of 64%. Neighboring France, with a much higher fertility had a FLFP rate in the same age group of 72%. The UK also had much higher fertility and much higher FLFP rate (73%). Since that time, Italy’s FLFP rate has risen somewhat, but its relative position has not changed much (the EU-15 FLFP rate in the 25- age group had climbed to 76% by 2004) and the increased female labor force participation was not accompanied by any further decline in Italian fertility. And one other detail should not escape our notice here, and that is that while we have seen a tendency toward convergence in fertility rates between the North and the South of Italy, this move has not been accompanied by any similar convergence in FLFP rates between North and South.

Secularism and Family Ties

Equally, far from being marked by weak family ties and a strong drive toward individualism, Italy is striking for the strength of its family ties. Italy is rightly regarded as being among those European countries having a strong system of family ties in which traditionally the family group has had priority over the individual, and this is a centuries old dichotomy which has long divided European societies along an axis running from North to South. In 1994, for example, 21% and 22% of people aged 25-29 were living with their parents in the UK and France respectively. The comparable figures were 66% for Italy and 65% for Spain. In 1995, 71% of all Italians aged 20-29 were living with their parents, compared to 33% in France and 31% in the UK.

Various post hoc economic explanations have been given for this kind of pattern - the high cost of housing, young adult unemployment, etc. - but none of these are really that convincing, not least because survey after survey seems to show that fully-employed young Italian adults find it to their liking to remain in the parental home, where they typically pay almost nothing for their upkeep, have their mother do all their cooking and wash, and can spend money on cars, vacations, discos or whatever.

Similarly, Italian illegitimacy ratios, divorce rates, and nonmarital childbearing are a small fraction of those found in northern Europe, and the use of modern contraception is much lower in Italy.

So while an examination of regional differences raises serious questions about the adequacy of an explanation focusing on women’s entry into the world of work, attempts to link cultural differences of the sort theorized by SDT theorists to fertility levels also proves to be problematic when you start to look at Italy's regions.

SDT theory tends to emphasise secularization and a movement away from religious values and religious identities. In the Italian context one way to capture such an impact might be by examining the spread of civil marriage, since for a couple to choose a civil marriage rather than a religious one involves making some sort of public statement of their distanciation from the Church, and the substantial regional variations which exists in the practice makes it a potentially valuable test of SDT theory. In 2001 73% of all Italian marriages were religious ones. In Italy’s largest northern regions - Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Liguria - the proportion of religious marriages was in the 60 to 69% range, while in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, the heart of Italy’s red belt, with a strongly anticlerical and left-wing tradition, only 63% of weddings were celebrated in Church. In contrast, in no part of the mainland South was the percentage of religious marriages under 80%, and in the deep South (Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria) the figure was nearer 90%.

Yet plotting regional TFR against percentage of religious marriages in 2003 Kertzer et al found little evidence of any link between secularization and low fertility. Italy’s least secularized region using this measure was the deep southern region of Basilicata, where only 9% of marriages were celebrated outside the church, yet in 2003 Basilicata’s TFR was 1.20, actually below the national average. Perhaps it is also worth noting that Basilicata also had among the lowest FLFP rates in Italy, with only 46% of women aged 25-34 in the labor force.

Too Much Love Too Much Family?

Given that Italy’s regional differences appear to be revealing contextual effects that are not captured by either existing economic or SDT theory, effects which may be rooted in factors like social networks, provision of local public services, availability of kin, and, especially, sociocultural norms regarding family building, it might in fact be useful to look at other - rival - explanations. One such explanation has been advanced by leading Italian demographer Massimo Livi-Bacci. Livvi-Bacci argues that, and contrary to the initial assumptions of standard SDT theory, it may well be the very surfeit of "familism" in societies like Italy that is perpetuating the very low fertility. This is the sense in which I read my initial quote from Rosella Palomba that Italians "love their children too much", not s meaning that in other societies parents do not love their children, but as meaning that it is this very "excess" of family attention which effectively frustrates many of the possibilities which exist in other - less familiaristic societies - for young women to take autonomous decisions go ahead and have children. Intergenerational bonds of loyalty and affection effectively put a brake on cultural change and individual initiative, and given the top heavy shape of the present Italian population pyramid this "cultural conservatism" may only get worse and worse.

So maybe we should take the persistence over time of strong family ties as an important component in explaining the immovability of lowest-low fertility in both Italy and Spain over the last 25 years . As one influential paper by Livi-Bacci puts it, what we may well have in these countries is “Too few children and too much family”.

What Livi-Bacci effectively argues is that it is the intense inter-connection between generations which leads to a prolonged period of dependency in the younger generation, and that this leads the younger generation to avoid, postpone, and finally limit their assumption of parental responsibilities and commitments. Although this theory is an extremely hard one to test, the argument is an attractive one and, given the prominent place occupied by familistic societies among the pioneers of very low fertility, certainly worth examining closely.

Family differences between the North and the South of Europe are not recent in origin, and in fact profound differences in kinship systems lie at the heart of them, since young people in southern Europe have never left home as early as their northern European counterparts have consistently done. And despite the fact that the transition from rural to urban societies has brought about a good deal of change, the distinction between societies with strong or weak family ties certainly seems to endure. One of the most remarkable features of these intergenerational links is the way in which they are reflected in physical space. Indeed the physical proximity over time between children and parents in Italy may even have increased, since young Italian adults not only are now leaving the family home later, even when they do finally go they often end up living at a very close distance to their parents, almost as if they had never left the village. Furthermore, visits and telephone calls between parents and children occur with much greater frequency in Latin cultures than would be considered normal in Northern Europe.

A 1994 national survey found that, among young wives in the 25-34 age group, 29% lived in the same home or same building as their parents, another 37% were within one kilometer, and an additional 19% in the same town. These figures were little different for older women who had living parents. In 2005 it was found that Italian children are more likely to live near parents than those in any other European country. Separate data show that during the last thirty year of the 20th century only 30% of newly married Italian couples settled farther than one kilometre away from at least one set of parents, and one in four settled at less than one kilometre from both sets of parents.

One recent study found an interest difference between the Italian and the British patterns of family communication. Even in the UK most children tend to live not too far from their parents , since over 60% live at less than a half hour journey - or within 16 km - in both countries, Britons tend to phone their parents far less frequently and to actually visit them less often. For example, over 28% of British adult children visit their parents less than once a month, while only 12% of Italians do this; at the other end of the scale 37% of young adult Italians Italians say they visit their parents on a daily basis, while only about 11% of young British adults do so.

Also of note, the presence of siblings reduces the pressure on children to provide assistance to parents in both countries, but when we come to think about this Italy's low fertility means that the phenomenon of having siblings has been declining, and hence we have a reinforcing mechanism here which implies that the few children who are born will be under even greater distancial and communicational constraint in relation to their parents.

Cohabitation in Italy

Another area where parental approval (or disapproval) may be important is in the decision to cohabit - either prior to or instead of getting married In the mid-1990s, roughly one woman in three in the 25-29 age group in Sweden and Denmark was cohabiting; in France more than one woman in four was doing so, while in Germany and the Netherlands the equivalent figure was more like one woman in six. In Italy at the same time less than one woman in 20 was cohabiting.

Since non-marital cohabitation is a pretty public act then it may well be that children of parents who believe that cohabitation is not acceptable may decide not to cohabit in order to avoid embarrassment for or conflict with their parents. The result may be that couples who want to enter informal cohabitation but whose parents disapprove of it may also prefer to marry rather than to cohabit. This would seem to be especially true for Italian children, since the need for children to receive parental approval and hence support is extremely important in a southern European context, especially since the welfare state is historically characterized by a "familialistic" approach, expressed in the exitence of important transfers towards older generations and comparatively little in the way of direct help for the young.

In this context parental attitudes concerning household formation choices have an important influence on their children when they decide to form (or not to form) a household, net of the attitudes and values of these children themselves. There is plenty of empirical evidence that during the household formation decision-making process Italian parents are very willing to provide generous support to their children if they conform to parental expectations, in buying a home for example.

One area where this need for parental approval is immediately evident is in the high degree of synchronisation which exists between leaving the parental home and marriage. More than 80% of Italian women born in the 1960s left the family home directly to get married. This percentage is nearer to 40% for women in Northern Europe born in the same cohort. Over 85% of first unions in Italy are still marriages, and above all marriage remains the place for young Italians to become parents. And for younger Italians both the family and marriage continue to be considered to be among the most important corefundamental values, with more than 85%of young people in the 18-24 age group declaring marriage not to be an outdated institution, and that more attention should be given to the family in recent opinion surveys. Such a high percentage of pro-marriage attitudes has hardly any equal, neither in Western or Eastern Europe.

One strong possibility we need to consider is that the relatively low level of cohabitation in Italy is not so much the result of a low level of secularisation and a strong influence fromthe Catholic Church, but rather the result of the strong ties which exist between parents and children whereby parents support the young adult, not simply up to the age of consent, but also until he/she has reached a satisfactory employment situation and will normally involve substantial help while he/she is getting married, in particular (but not only) in the purchase of a house. As we have seen the strength of this bond is marked by the residential proximity which exists between parents and married children, by the continuous help by the parents to their children even after they are married (grandparents as babyminders), and by the comparative absence of cohabitation and children born out of wedlock.

It is perhaps worth noting that while in Italy the incidence of – heterosexual – cohabitations has remained fairly stable until recently, it did increase between the 1991 and 2001 censuses, although even by 2001 it still only involved about 4% of all couples. Marriage is still by large the prevalent form of settling in a first couple relationship for heterosexuals, although the most recent data does indicate that in the younger marriage cohorts one every 4 marriages has been preceded by a cohabitation, and that cohabitations have also increased in duration. Indeed recent research does seem to be showing that an increased acceptance of cohabitation by a parental generation (the key indicator here, not the children) with a higher level of education in the Centre-North of Italy is leading to a wider adoption of the practice by the young. There is however little evidence as yet that this increase in cohabitation is leading to an increase in childbirth outside marriage.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that in Italy cohabiting instead of marrying has long been the province not of young people entering their first partnership, but of mature adults who have had a marriage dissolution. The impossibility to obtain adivorce before 1970 and the long process through involved in obtaining one even today mean there is a long waiting period during which couples often cohabit simply because they are not in a position to remarry.

In Conclusion

Basically what has been argued here is that low fertility is a complex phenomenon, where a variety of factors come into play, and that the driving forces - for either higher or lower dertility - may well vary from one country or region to another. In particular the theoretical assumptions behind some of the traditional views of fertility decline - the labour market participation thesis , and the second demographic transition "secularisation" one - while not being entirely erroneous have at best only limited explanatory power when confronted with a detailed examination of what has actually happened in practice.

In particular it has been suggested here that underlying kinship structures form one important and intriguing part of the puzzle. In general it has been the case that fertility is higher where family ties between parents and children are weaker (as in Northern Europe and the English-speaking countries generally), and where “new” types of marital behaviour (eg cohabitation, extramarital fertility and marriage disruption) have become widespread, and where gender roles, both within couples and in society at large, have become more balanced. The bottom line would seem to be that the association between the waning of the “traditional” family and the arrival of lowest-low fertility seems to be negated by what has happened in Southern Europe over the last 20 odd years. What would now be very interesting would be to see some studies of Eastern Europe and low fertility Asian countries to examine what similarities and differences are to be found.


Italy’s path to very low fertility: the adequacy of economic and second demographic transition theories by David Kertzer, Michael White, Laura Bernardi and Giuseppe Gabrielli.

Rosina, A. and Fraboni, R. (2004). Is marriage losing its centrality in Italy? DemographicResearch, 11:149–172

Livi Bacci M. (2001). “Too Few Children and Too Much Family”, Dedalus, 130, 3:

Gianpiero Dalla Zuanna, Social mobility and fertility, Demographic Research: Volume 17, Article 15.

Paola Di Giulio and Alessandro Rosina, Intergenerational family ties and the
diffusion of cohabitation in Italy
, Demographic Research
Volume 16, Article 14, Pages 441-468


Edward Hugh said...

Well, having just completed this post I came across the following quite relevant article in the English version of ANSA today.

Living together OK, court says
Father tried to get daughter back with shovel

(ANSA) - Rome, April 15 - Parents angry at adult kids who 'live in sin' should mind their own business, Italy's top appeals court said on Monday. The Court of Cassation said living together outside wedlock was now ''accepted in all social circles'' in Italy, and offended none of society's rules or customs. More importantly, it broke no Italian law, the judges said.

The ruling upheld an earlier guilty verdict against the father and brother of a 25-year-old woman, named only as Vittoria, who went to live with her boyfriend, Francesco. Believing the move would cast shame on the whole family, her father initially tried to stop her moving out.

Father and son later showed up at the couple's new home with a shovel, threatening Vittoria and her partner, before smashing the couples' door and denting the man's car. A Calabrian court found both men guilty of property damage, attempted domestic violence and attempted personal violence.

On appeal, the father argued his sentence (which has not been made public) should be reduced, alleging a temporary loss of control provoked by his daughter's behaviour.

''The flight of Vittoria constituted an unjust deed sufficient to create a state of uncontrollable rage in the defendant,'' his lawyer said. But the Court of Cassation and a lower appeals court disagreed. ''The behaviour of the two young people, Vittoria and Franceso, is now accepted at all levels of society and cannot be considered contrary either to legal norms or to the ethical, social or customary rules of the community,'' said the court. It added that parents should respect the decisions of their offspring, rather than treating cohabitation as an affront to family honour. While cohabitation among unwed couples is far less common in Italy than in some Western countries, the last 15 years have seen a major shift in attitude.

The most recent report on cohabitation by national statistics institute Istat noted that the number of unmarried couples living together doubled between 1994 and 2003, up from 227,000 to 555,000.

Nearly half of all young couples setting up home for the first time have not yet taken their vows and have no immediate plans to do so.

Anonymous said...

I thought this study of Italy was pretty bogus. Why?

1) When you are looking at sub-replacement fertility, you are merely comparing a sick and dying culture to itself. What difference does it make when you are comparing TFR=1.7 families to 1.3? Nothing, and you shouldn't expect to see anything of note, and we don't. Both cultures are terminally ill.

2) Italy is historically Catholic, which teaches spacing children for non-"serious" reasons is wrong. Thus, TFR's of 1.7 and 1.3 are both secular by defintion.

3) I note the researchers did not compare families in Italy with a TFR of 3-8 with those having below-replacement 1-2. They would then have seen a serious religious correlation. You will also see a non-trivial negative correlation for women in the workforce.

4) I always find these sorts of studies amusing. If we were studying animals (say chimps) the language would be much more honest and we would quit dancing around the obvious. We would note (duh!) that Caucasian women in Italy are dying out at breathtaking speed, and being replaced with a new racial group. And the reasons are obvious: a migration of these Caucasian women into the workforce and a steady decline of their religious values. Yet this study merely parses the data as best they can to obsuficate this reality. It is sort of funny, kind of like the fish not understanding he's swimming in water because that's all he has ever seen. Or like comparing two patients, one with cancer over half his body versus one with cancer over only a third. Bluntly, these researchers are bending spoons with their mind to avoid uncomfortable realities. It's funny.

Edward Hugh said...

Hi Vital Core.

Very interesting points - pardon my pun if I say you go right to the "vitals" of things. Actually I think what is involved here is a simply a good old rerun of that Augustine-Pelagius controversy which so plagued early Christian theology, with Augustine taking the view that humanity was doomed due to original sin, while Pelagius tried to argue that since we had some sort of free will and capacity to act there were things we could do.

You do think humanity is doomed don't you? I mean the next three billion or so to go through the demographic transition will all end up around 1.2/1.3 TFR if nothing is done, and when we have 8.5 billion people all below replacement, even 400 or 500 million stalwart resisters won't be able to do much to stop the huge economic depression this will produce globally. Following Nietzsche and Spengler, it won't just be the west in decline but the whole planet. "Twilight of the idols, Johnny, Twilight of the idols".

Being temperamentally a Pelagian I take a different view, and think we can do things, if not to completely reverse course, at least to try and avoid a gigantic crash (complete with the accompanying thudding sound). Which is why when you say:

"What difference does it make when you are comparing TFR=1.7 families to 1.3? Nothing,"

I don't agree. My view is that such a change can be make or break when we come to the the difference between having a sustainable pension system, and total long term impoverishment for a population. Italy, as you may have noted, is in relatively immediate danger of having to default on it's sovereign debt, while France has no such problem, nor Sweden, nor Denmark etc. This, I think, is where we can see the difference.

The point I am trying to ask in this piece is just how representative Italy will be of the way in which family structures will influence fertility across Asia, and Latin America and later Sub-saharan Africa.

I mean one of the things that is so striking when we come to look at the empirical evidence is the way in which familiaristic societies really do seem to get stuck, and they then don't seem to start to bounce back - in the way that a country with a more Nordic kinship structure like Estonia may be well be doing (rising from 1.2 to say 1.7 I mean, even if that doesn't cut much ice with you I'm pretty sure it does with the Estonians themselves).

Wolfgang Lutz had another useful paper at this years meeting of the Population Association of America, and I couldn't help noticing this bit:

"Spain is celebrating a reversal of the declining fertility trend
because the TFR recently increased from below 1.2 to 1.4. This in fact
mostly reflects an end of the tempo effect (the mean age at
childbearing stopped increasing) with a surprisingly limited

So Spain would seem to be confirming this particular pattern, and given the economic mess which is now looming in Spain following the unwinding of the property boom and the onset of the credit crunch - which could easily produce Spain's "lost decade" - this is unlikely to
be changing soon (The Low Fertility Trap hypothesis).

At the end of the day my objective in the post is to draw try to attention to the underlying role of kinship systems here, since I think this has much broader application - labour market openness (moving between cities), new business start-ups etc - and is something which is generally missing from micro - let alone macro - economic analysis. This is a point I have long felt strongly about, and at the end of the day comes up in issues like "the applicability of Danish flexisecurity to the rest of Europe". Obviously if kinship matters - and I think it does - then these universal template panaceas are of much less applicability then the micro-only "institutions matter" argument about economic growth seems to imagine.

So I am afraid I am not willing to be "quietist" in the way you suggest and simply sit back and watch all this happen with stoically folded arms - or even with a Sisyphian smile on my face.

For this reason I have the following quote from John Maynard Keynes - another economist who refused to sit back and accept the dogma of his day - as the header on my East European blog (since it is Eastern Europe where all this is likely to bite first economically speaking IMHO):

"Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past, the ocean is flat again."

Oh, and Pelagius, who was Pelagius? Well according to Wikipedia:

Pelagius (ca. 354 - ca. 420/440) was an ascetic monk and reformer who denied the doctrine of original sin, later developed by Augustine of Hippo, inherited from Adam and was declared a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church. His interpretation of a doctrine of free will became known as Pelagianism. He was well educated, fluent in both Greek and Latin, and learned in theology. He spent time as an ascetic, focusing on practical asceticism, which his teachings clearly reflect. He was not, however, a cleric. He was certainly well known in Rome, both for the harsh asceticism of his public life as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech. His reputation in Rome earned him praise early in his career even from such pillars of the Church as Augustine, who referred to him as a "saintly man." However, he was later accused of lying about his own teachings in order to avoid public condemnation. Most of his later life was spent defending himself against other theologians and the Catholic Church.

Yep, well, there but for the grace of god go I :)

Anonymous said...

vital core, may are answer some of your points:

1) The difference between 1.7 and 1.3 is 25% difference in size of a cohort. One is a slow decrease the other a fast decrease in population.

2) Sex is sin so really religious catholics shouldn't have kids.

4) Southern Italia has the lowest TFR's. Since when are Southern Italians considered Caucassians?

Anonymous said...

edward hugh, You do think humanity is doomed don't you?

Where do you get this tripe?

I was clearly addressing how you are avoiding the well-known science of natural selection in your analysis. A tribe who has less than replacement children is going extinct. That's a fact. I'm sorry if it bothers you. And I'm sorry, we have never seen a culture "bounce back" from sub-replacement fertility that is a lifestyle choice. Why should we expect it? It's everyone's choice to go extinct. You have to struggle to survive; to die, you just have to sit still.

But not everyone is going extinct, and this is what you ignore in your futile attempt to get information by comparing one soon-to-be-extinct subgroup (say TFR=1.7) to another (TFR=1.3)

You selectively ignore the reality that many, many peoples in the world are breeding just fine, many of them smack dab in the middle of Europe. And even if not, it will be no big loss to Homo sapiens if every single Caucasian in the world chooses to stop breeding (this particular race of peoples hasn't even existed but for 20-30,000 years).

Africa has a TFR=5, with a population expected to grow to 1.9b by 2050 (UN 2004). They are doing quite nicely, showing no demographic angst.

The Mennoites in America are also doing well, with some subgroups like the Wengers with TFRs averaging 7+ for over 100 years steady.

What do these groups have that the Italians lack? Religion and a lack of feminism.

So my point stands: we should expect to see little or no difference between 1.7 or 1.3 TFR peoples. They are both very sick and going extinct rapidly. If you want to figure out why they are sick, merely compare them to others who are doing fine. Why don't you do this simple exercise? Scientific bias. Like the fish in the water, you are too close to your subject.

Remove this bias, and the results come through as clear as a bell. A lack of religion and lack of patriarchy kills off the species. Duh.

Edward Hugh said...

Hi again Vital Core.

Interesting points as always.

"A tribe who has less than replacement children is going extinct."

Exactly! And my point here was, that - apart from the Menonites and one or two other such marginal groups - the whole tribe is going extinct.

In this sense Kurzweil is probably right in imagining that the whole show is going to be run at some point by set of biologically engineered super-cloned highly intelligent Daleks. But in the meantime I'm alive, and you know what I'm happy with my life, and I wouldn't mind seeing our species hanging on in there just that little bit longer.

"Africa has a TFR=5, with a population expected to grow to 1.9b by 2050 (UN 2004)."

Exactly, and they are now entering the demographic transition, and all 1.9 billion of them will end up having 1.2/1.3 fertility if we don't do something NOW to try get some sort of pltform put in place to hold them around the 1.7/1.8 mark (like they did in France and Sweden). Basically they will follow in the path of India and China. China is already down towards very low fertility levels, as is South India, with North India following rapidly behind as economic development gets a real shove forward with funds flowing in following the sub-prime bust. A historic turning point perhaps?

"So my point stands: we should expect to see little or no difference between 1.7 or 1.3 TFR peoples. "

Maybe. Or maybe mine does. As Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead, so how would you like to go, with a bang, or with a whimper. Or put another way, more painlessly, with a crash in your pension system and impoverishment in your old age, or slightly less painfully, with a *more* sustainable path. I prefer the latter option, but you, like everyone else, are free to chose. The interesting thing to note is that we are, each and every day, choosing, all of us.

Anonymous said...

"And I'm sorry, we have never seen a culture "bounce back" from sub-replacement fertility that is a lifestyle choice."

"Africa has a TFR=5, with a population expected to grow to 1.9b by 2050 (UN 2004)."

Sorry if I'm a bit slow on the uptake, but I am new to these debates. Why should we expect lifestyle choices in the Upper Volta or Nigeria to be more optimal in the future than those in New York, Los Angeles, Paris or Stockholm, where, if I follow you aright humans will rapidly be extinct?

Could you flesh out your thinking here a bit more?

Anonymous said...

"Italy is historically Catholic, which teaches spacing children for non-"serious" reasons is wrong. Thus, TFR's of 1.7 and 1.3 are both secular by defintion."

I was thinking about this. Hispanic fertility in the United States is currently running at around 2.8 (while caucasian fertility is down to the 1.7 extinction-zone level). Do you think Latinos will follow the footsteps of their ex-fellow-catholics in Spain and Italy, or will they be attracted by the new African model you seem to be advocating? I mean, will patriarchy survive in this case or will these populations simply follow the already well-trodden south European path?

Anonymous said...

I liked the comment on Italians loving children too much. I have a lot to say about that. Loving/smothering with a dose of trying to maintain control over their own lives. I am a US citizen living in Italy and having just talked to other mothers at daycare/play ground, I'm amazed at the number who are afraid to have two children close in age. Mine are 19 months apart and I am constantly lauded for my bravery. I think Italians wait, then think twice about returning to diapers (fair) or have fertility problems that they wouldn't necessarily have had if they'd gone the boom-boom route. Whereas in other countries when you see children 10 years or more apart, you think, oops, here it is often planned. Then there are economic concerns, lack of daycare, reliance on grandparents. I think a woman's role also is in flux here.

Anonymous said...

"Italy is historically Catholic, which teaches spacing children for non-"serious" reasons is wrong."

"A lack of religion and lack of patriarchy kills off the species."

This was presumeably the point the guy mentioned in the first comment was trying in his way to communicate with the shovel to his would be son-in-law. A somewhat blunt instrument, but an effective way to make a point.

"What do these groups have that the Italians lack? Religion and a lack of feminism."


Paul C said...

"A lack of religion and lack of patriarchy kills off the species."

Nice soundbite. How, exactly, do a lack of religion and lack of patriarchy kill off the species?

Anonymous said...

"Nice soundbite. How, exactly, do a lack of religion and lack of patriarchy kill off the species?"

Thank you Paul. I was wondering about this too. I mean how exactly is a lack of religion and lack of patriarchy killing off the species more quickly in counries like Poland and Italy, than it is in countries like Sweden and the UK. At face value I'd have thought the situation should be the other way round. Or am I just bending spoons or something?

I can't see how it all adds up, unless being C of E or Lutheran gives us an extra dose of something or other that catholics don't get since their idea of sin and personal responsibility is different. You know, more bangs for the buck type of stuff.

In any event this is all very strange, since in school they taught me that Catholics were different since they could "misbehave" and go and get forgiveness at confession, while now I discover we can misbehave (or fool around) all we want, and then we get to die out more slowly. Adolescent pregnancy and having multiple parters does push up fertility doesn't? I have got this part right at least I think.

It doesn't seem fair, unless of course the Italians and the Poles are, like the Cathars before them, secretly more religious, and all this outward show is simply a cunning way of all geting to heaven more quickly.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


Hispanic fertility in the United States is currently running at around 2.8 (while caucasian fertility is down to the 1.7 extinction-zone level). Do you think Latinos will follow the footsteps of their ex-fellow-catholics in Spain and Italy, or will they be attracted by the new African model you seem to be advocating?

First, I'm not "advocating" anything. I'm merely looking that the data.

I think it's obvious from the fast decline in TFR that Hispanics in present cultural form are toast. That's why I doubt this cultural form will hold up, for Caucasians or Hispanics. Darwin rules; those who keep their TFR up will soon dominate. And we already see sub-groups doing quite well in the Americas - all of them heavily religious and patriachal.

Anonymous said...

Paul c, Nice soundbite. How, exactly, do a lack of religion and lack of patriarchy kill off the species?

I have no idea. The data, however, correlates well. Those who are secular or feminist simply don't have kids at replacement, while the religious and traditional woman breeds well above replacement.

Paul C said...

So you assert with confidence that the reasons for the decline in TFR are obvious, but you have no idea how the factors that you identify actually lead to that decline. I find that argument unconvincing, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Paul C So you assert with confidence that the reasons for the decline in TFR are obvious, but you have no idea how the factors that you identify actually lead to that decline. I find that argument unconvincing, to say the least.

Why is that? Heck, for the longest time humans found it "obvious" that sun would rise every day in the east, but have absolutely no idea why. They felt the need to create a host of wild theories.

In the same way, I have no idea why when women go feminist or certain peoples stop believing in God it leads to a lack of fertility. But it obviously does, over and over, culture after culture, within a tribe (compare Italians TFR=4+ with TFR=2-) for between different tribes (Africans and Europeans).

Even if certain demographers work at bending spoons with their minds to avoid this reality.

Paul C said...

Heck, for the longest time humans found it "obvious" that sun would rise every day in the east, but have absolutely no idea why. They felt the need to create a host of wild theories.

Yes, but you haven't presented a theory - you've simply observed that a couple of factors correlate (although not especially conclusively). I agree that the two factors you identify are important in understanding the trends discussed here, and I have my own theory about why that is - but I'm more interested to hear what your theory is.

Anonymous said...

A tribe who has less than replacement children is going extinct.

This statement is simply not true.
The main way tribes grow or shrink isn't the womb but conversion/indoctrination. Groups like the Mennonites grow much slower than their very high TFR would indicated because a lot of their prodigy converts to mainstream life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to James Sinnamon for sending me this link to a lecture on population and food supply:

This narrated slide show is a presentation based on the belief that population growth is the result of increasing food supply and that further increasing food supply will invariably further increase human numbers, despite the availability of family planning. The authors have the following two publications mentioned on their website:

Hopfenberg, R. (2003) Human carrying capacity is determined by food availability. Population and Environment 25, 109-117

Hopfenberg, R., Pimentel, D. (2001) Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply. Environment, Development and Sustainability 3, 1–15.

Below is an interview with Dr. Russell Hopfenberg about this thesis. The interview and comments can be found at

Special guest: Dr. Russell Hopfenberg on food supply, carrying capacity, and population
May 3, 2007 ·
It’s my pleasure to welcome Dr. Russ Hopfenberg to GIM. During the preceding weeks we’ve summarized and had the chance to discuss his work on the links between food supply, carrying capacity, and population growth, and to comment and ask questions. In this post, Russ generously responds to our questions and comments. Feel free to post additional comments and questions below, and Russ will return later in the month (update: make that next month) for one more round of follow-up comments. Thanks so much, Russ!

– John


By Russell Hopfenberg:

I’d like to extend my thanks to John Feeney and Steve Salmony for inviting me to participate in this forum. I’d also like to express my appreciation to them for hand-holding me through the blogging process.

Question 1. The observation that individual countries’ food supplies don’t seem to correlate with their fertility rates as described by your hypothesis: I’ve read that one criticism of your work involves the observation that the countries with the lowest fertility rates tend to be the developed countries, and those with the highest tend to be those more deprived of food. (which would seem to contradict your hypothesis that more food means more population growth).

Response 1 - This is a very important question. It speaks to the complexity of understanding our global population difficulties. It seems that, in order to fully address the food-population issue, your question requires a thorough answer.

First, there is a biological fantasy imbedded in this question. The end of the question states “those with the highest (fertility rates) tend to be those more deprived of food.” I don’t think that this is biologically or physically possible as people are made from nothing but food. This kind of statement reveals the deeply held cultural position that humans are not subject to the same biological laws as the rest of the living community. I don’t think the questioner would ever make such a statement about another species’ population. If news came out that armadillos at the zoo had an elevated birth rate and now thousands were starving, I think the questioner would understand without hesitation that food supplies had first been elevated and then cut off. If the armadillo fertility rate continued to remain high, the questioner would understand that more food was being supplied.

Regarding humans, how is it possible that more people can be produced with less food? In reality, we have all seen the images of the UN workers handing out food. We have all seen the Sally Struthers commercials. When the crisis is over, i.e., the famine or political turmoil at least temporarily abates, there is more food available to the population in these areas. This increase in food availability precipitates an (unsustainable) increase in the population. The cycle then begins anew - another crisis, and more food is shipped in.

Second, it is true that more developed areas / countries show a lower birth rate.

This has to do with a phenomenon known as the demographic transition (DT). As you would find in a basic ecology book, it proceeds as follows: There are four stages in the classic DT model. In Stage 1, both birth rates and death rates are equivalent and high. In Stage 2, Death rates dramatically decline, but birth rates remain high. In Stage 3, birth rates begin to decline. And in Stage 4, both birth and death rates are equivalent and low. In other words, the declining birth rate occurs in countries that have traversed the DT.

But the DT model, as it is generally understood, is limited in historical and geographical scope. First, to even be in Stage 1, food production must already be at such a high level that birth rate and population size are greatly elevated. With this large population, environmental, medical and sanitation problems increase the death rate, so that it now matches the birth rate. Once health care and sanitation improve, the population enters Stage 2. In Stage 2, the birth rate remains elevated and the death rate decreases so the population naturally increases. As average resource consumption per individual increases, the population enters Stage 3. In Stage three of the demographic transition model, the birth rate declines. As this trend continues, the population theoretically moves to Stage 4. In Stage 4, birth and death rates are low but population and resource consumption are highly elevated.

Let me take a moment to summarize Abernethy and Moses & Brown’s position on the demographic transition: In stage 1 & 2, perceptions of increasing resource availability encourage and permit high fertility rates (Abernethy, 1997). This is followed, in stages 3 & 4, by a trend of declining fertility as societal expectations for high per capita resource consumption become established and tradeoffs between the number of children and resource allocation per person, are accepted (Moses & Brown, 2003).

I think the above paragraph needs a little more explanation. First, it is the worldwide perception that resource availability will be increasing. We have national and international farming programs, farms, agricultural departments, bureaus, and institutions that have a mission to increase food production and distribution. So, the perception is that resource availability will be increasing. Therefore, fertility increases. As the population grows, and resources are further increased, with the perception that they will be increasing further, fertility begins to decline but resource use per person increases. At the end of the road, with a greatly increased carrying capacity, large population size, low fertility rates and excessive resource use, the Brundtland Report, commissioned by the United Nations, estimated that it would take more than ten planet earths to supply the required resources for the now larger, more resource-consuming population. In other words, imagine if the entire planet’s population was similar to the US in resource use and fertility.

Question 2. The question of correlation versus causation (and why no correlation coefficient?).

Response 2 - My studies are certainly correlational studies. Imagine what an ethics board would say to a proposed human food-population experiment. Much that we know about humans comes from correlational studies. Think about the cigarette smoking and lung cancer link. Until recently, the tobacco industry’s defense was that all of the scientific evidence was from lab animal, human tissue, and human correlational studies. There was (and is) no human experimental evidence that links cigarette smoking to cancer. I offer the same type of evidence – animal experimental evidence and human correlational data. Regarding the correlation coefficient, I felt that the graph was sufficient. Also, the correlation coefficient might confuse matters as the correlation would be between the actual population data set and a theoretically derived population data set.

Question 3. If population growth is a function solely of food supply, one might realistically have to expect to see a future development of a further eroding of the ecosystems of this planet. ‑ Rampant overfishing, industrial farming, deforestation, etc., all because of a growing population’s rising demand for food.

Response 3 - Your assessment is true. If we continue on as we have been, then we will destroy the earth’s capacity to sustain us. However, the “biological fantasy,” imbedded in this question, rears its head once again. Our growing population’s “rising demand for food” is due to a misconception. Remember, population is a function of food supply, not the other way around. Food supply is an ecological magnet that draws population numbers to it.

Question 4. That seems an incredible leap. Family planning, education, free contraceptives, and empowering women are methods that has been shown to be effective.

Response 4 - I would like to ask the questioner - “Where have these things been shown to be effective?” They may help some individuals, in some places and for a little while, but I think the global population is still growing at a near exponential rate. To quote Daniel Quinn, “Birth control always works in fantasy. Where it doesn’t work, unfortunately, is in reality. For individuals, it works wonderfully well for limiting family size. What it won’t do is end our population explosion.”

Birth control has been around since at least 1960. Since then the global population has more than doubled. Also, for every person that chooses to have one child, resources are then available for someone else to choose to have more children. In theory, it could work that individuals choose to have fewer children even though there is an abundance of food available, it just isn’t very likely. And history bears out that, as a global population, given increasing agricultural production, we choose to increase our numbers. Also, we must understand that it is evolutionarily unstable for a population to diminish in a time of abundance.

Question 5. Would stopping the increase in food production cause more people to starve?

Response 5 - First, what we know is that as food production numbers have risen, the number of starving people has also risen, almost lock-step.

Second, if 3 billion tons of food (arbitrary number) was enough to feed the current world population last month, I can’t see why any more people would be starving if there were 3 billion tons available this month. … or next month.

Question 6. If we put a cap on global food production, how soon would world population growth stop?

Response 6 - I haven’t done the math on this, but I think we currently produce enough food worldwide to support a population of about 20 billion. Of course, it’s unclear as to how long the biological community can support the current human population. Let’s remember, right now there are over 200 species per day becoming extinct as a direct result of human activity. If we don’t understand the issues and act responsibly, at some point one of those 200 species will be our own. I think that the first order of business is to understand the cause and effect relationship between food availability and human population growth. Only then can thoughtful and effective action be taken.

Question 7. But how would stopping the growth of food production interact with the social and economic issues known/thought to influence fertility rates?

Response 7 - To quote Mark Meritt (2001),

Basic population ecology models will show that population growth is simply an epiphenomenon of a particular kind of economic growth, the increase of our food supply. Ecologically speaking, population growth is thus not a sustainability problem in and of itself but only inasmuch as it is caused by, and exacerbates, increasing resource use. Theories of organization and state formation, however, show that a growing population generates hierarchy within a social structure. Population growth can therefore systematically generate inequality by increasing the complexity of social structure, perpetuating poverty, material and otherwise, even in conditions of abundance. Further, the complication process itself is systematically unsustainable in its own way…. In the end, economic growth is, in more than a metaphoric sense, the largest pyramid scheme possible.

In other words, underlying our social and economic, as well as our population issues, is food supply. Social and economic issues influence the ways that the population grows (see the response to question 1) but the ultimate causative variable is food supply.

Question 8. Over some period of history, it seems we’ve tried to “keep up” with population growth by producing more and more food. I believe your contention is that we can’t “keep up” with population growth that way. The result is just more people, and ultimately more starving people. This leads to this question: Historically, did this attempt to “keep up” with population in our food production begin around the time of industrialized agriculture?

Response 8 - The food race certainly began long before the industrial revolution. Many ancient military campaigns were driven by the quest for more resources, especially food, for the growing population. I think we’ve made the idea of the “food race” more explicit in relatively recent times. But civilizations’ answer to starvation and famine has always been to attempt to increase food production. Of course, intensive agricultural production actually precipitates famine.

In closing, I think it’s important to remember that there will never be an answer to end all questions or an argument to end all arguments. I hope that, if nothing else, I have facilitated some thought and advanced the paradigm that human population dynamics are subject to the same laws as the population dynamics of all other species. With this perspective, you will be in a better position to answer your own as well as others’ questions.

Thank you for taking the time to entertain my responses. I hope that my answers addressed the issues sufficiently.


Best wishes,


William N. Ryerson
Population Media Center

145 Pine Haven Shores Road, Suite 2011
P.O. Box 547
Shelburne, Vermont 05482
Tel. 1-802-985-8156 Extension 204

Mobile: 1-802-578-4286
Fax 1-802-985-8119
Web site:

Skype name: billryerson

Edward Hugh said...

Hi again Steve,

From what I can see Hopfenberg and Pimentel are offering some sort of revamped version of the old "does building more motorways reduce congestion or encourage more cars?".

As always I would say "it depends". Basically I don't agree with the way the two authors you cite approach the whole demographic transition problem, for reasons which should be obvious across our various excanges.

In particular they seem to hold the OLD view of ther transition whereby fertility rates and mortality rates settle down into some sort of new equilibrium.

"This has to do with a phenomenon known as the demographic transition (DT). As you would find in a basic ecology book, it proceeds as follows: There are four stages in the classic DT model. In Stage 1, both birth rates and death rates are equivalent and high. In Stage 2, Death rates dramatically decline, but birth rates remain high. In Stage 3, birth rates begin to decline. And in Stage 4, both birth and death rates are equivalent and low. In other words, the declining birth rate occurs in countries that have traversed the DT."

On this blog we more or less take it as acquired knowledge that this view was fine in its day, but is now badly flawed since fertility rates fall below mortality rates, and populations start to age and shrink at dangerously rapid rates for sustainability.

My solution to the problem is to get the high fertility societies locked into the modern economic growth regime - which you seem to disapprove of since you consider it leads to an excess of consumerism.

This is fine, but then - apart from starving them to death or depriving them of badly needed medical supplies (both of which I imagine the two of us would regard as ethically monstrous) - I fail to see how you are ever going to tow them out of the mire they are bogged-down in.

But basically I imagine we could argue all day about these kind of things, without really convincing each other. I mean you are convinced of one thing, and I am conmvinced of another, and we are both within our perfect rights to think what we think.

So I thank you for your input, but really I would like to get back to focusing on the details of particular problems - like whether Italians don't have many children becuase they love them too much, or whether some other factors at work we the authors mentioned in the post have failed to consider. I think it is only by looking at detailed problems, and detailed solutions built to measure - rather than sweeping general theories which are hard to evaluate one way or the other (and especially on a blog post) that ther debate can nmove usefully forward.

Edward Hugh said...


It is kind of interesting in a strange sort of way to see this sort of comment from Hopfenberg being put up as a comment to an explanation of low Italian fertility as a cultural phenomenon.

"I don’t think that this is biologically or physically possible as people are made from nothing but food. This kind of statement reveals the deeply held cultural position that humans are not subject to the same biological laws as the rest of the living community."

Quite frankly I don't think Hopfenberg understands what culture is all about. I have been resisting this kind of reductionism in economic theory for the best part of half a lifetime now and I don't propose to now start accepting it in its biological (or pseudo Darwinian) variant.

Can you (or Vital Core for that matter) offer any biologically grounded explanation as to why Italians have less children than Swedes, or throw any light on how the Malthusain trap process affects Swedes differently to Italians.

"Question 1. The observation that individual countries’ food supplies don’t seem to correlate with their fertility rates as described by your hypothesis: I’ve read that one criticism of your work involves the observation that the countries with the lowest fertility rates tend to be the developed countries, and those with the highest tend to be those more deprived of food. (which would seem to contradict your hypothesis that more food means more population growth)."

I essentially agree with the questioner. Once you break out of the Malthusian trap and enter modern growth non of this holds, and of course, cultural factors like patriarchy and lack of female empowerment may well form part of the explanation as to why some countries are very slow in making the transition. Some part, please note, not the complete explanation.

Paul C said...

Can you (or Vital Core for that matter) offer any biologically grounded explanation as to why Italians have less children than Swedes, or throw any light on how the Malthusain trap process affects Swedes differently to Italians.

I assume this is me, but I don't think there's a biological explanation for low birth rates. In fact, I don't think there is a single explanation as such, but I do think that an increase in female education and a decrease in religious observance make a significant difference. Those factors both increase the level of autonomy that women have over their own lives, which exposes a pretty simple truth: most women don't want to have lots of children, particularly if the children they do have are nearly 100% likely to survive to adulthood.

The fact of differences between (for example) Italians and Swedes in this regard shows only that there are other factors at play. It seems obvious that there is no equilibrium state in population terms, and it's more likely that TFRs oscillate around levels which change over time, particularly as a result of exogenous shocks. However I don't think it's useful to think in the terms that Vital Core does, for a variety of reasons, but I'd still be interested to hear the reasons why he thinks those two factors have the effect they do.

Edward Hugh said...

Hi Paul,

"I assume this is me"

Sorry no. My fault. It was a typo on my part, I meant to put the question to Stephen, since the comment was all about Hopfenberg. I understood basically that you weren't putting this view.

Anyway thanks for sharing your perspective with us. Especially this:

"It seems obvious that there is no equilibrium state in population terms, and it's more likely that TFRs oscillate around levels which change over time,"

With which I completely agree.

Anonymous said...


I attach quite some importance to the family structures (following Todd here). But what I’m missing in the descriptions of family structures is the status of the women.

For example: the dominant family structure in Central Italy (Toscany) is “la famille communautaire (exogame)”, seldom found in the capitalistic world, but widespread in Eastern Europe, Russia and China (by coincidence (ex)socialist countries which historically also goes for some parts in Italy). This family structure is authoritarian and egalitarian (for more details “L’Illusion Economique, Todd, p. 42).
I just like to add that the South and North of Italy have another structure: la famille nucléaire égalitaire (Venice excepted, where we find “la famille souche”).

Although the structures have common characteristics, the status of women is not a defining issue. Only the “exogame” and “endogame” seems to add a hint to the structure (the Arab world knows a “famille communautaire endogame”).

The status of the women doesn’t necessarily correlate with one of the family structures. Neither do I notice a relationship between the status of women and the labor force participation rate. Moreover the status of women has little influence on the FLFP while the FLFP is influenced by education of women and financial necessity.

I’ll try to be more clear in a vulgar way. Nevertheless the macho society in Italy and why not the Italian stallion image, and the be beautiful and elegancy requirements for women (sorry for the expressions), women in Italy enjoy a rather important status. We should not be fooled by external images and behavior. As far as my experience reaches, women have their say in business and family, more than in other countries.

The higher labour participation rate in Northern Italy could be caused by the standard of living requirements there and maybe this attitude must result in a lower TFR, this is if we adhere to an economic biological reasoning.

Maybe a word on the latter.

It’s difficult to accept that the biological urge for reproduction, can be controlled by rational behav-ior, through education and liberation. Humans don’t seem to function like that. But maybe we do take unconsciously logical economic decisions here.

The investments parents need to make in a society where we are alienated from our natural envi-ronment, appears to be huge and more visible. The factors are: children remain a burden for a longer time (in the past they even started contributing from a very young age), education lasts longer and parents became more demanding, the economic/financial effort is more visible for it’s more monetarily expressed and leisure time became important with the consequence that efforts are con-centrated in a limited time space.

There’s a lot more to write about because each item should be explained, but that would mean writing a book.

To close this rant: religion and authority are elements that influence the family structure. By focusing on the family structure we incorporate these factors in a broader sense.