Tonight I thought I'd share two links to English-language articles taking a look at the demographic exception that is France, specifically to a period TFR now somewhat higher than the United States'.
The first is Noah Smith's Bloomberg View article "Fixing America's Baby Bust". In this article, the United States is contrasted negatively with France.
What is France’s secret sauce? It helps to think about the reasons that it’s so hard to raise a family in a developed country. Raising a kid costs huge amounts of money. First of all, you probably have to get a bigger house. Food and transportation are big expenses. Health care, including extras like braces, takes a big bite. And then there’s college, which is becoming out of reach for more and more families.
But the biggest cost of raising a child may simply be time. Time that you spend taking care of the kids is time that you don’t spend at work earning money. In the ideal situation, both parents would have flexible work situations, and both would take time off to share child-care duties. Unfortunately, most of us don’t live that dream. Many have rigid work schedules, and often put in many extra hours at home or at the office -- Americans work longer hours than almost anyone in the developed world. And many are single parents. What that means is that a lot of American parents are forced to make an all-or-nothing choice between the workplace and child care.
The demanding U.S. workplace may also be preventing women from fully joining the workforce. French women don’t just have more babies than American women, they also are more likely to get a job. The U.S., which was a leader in female labor force participation in the 1990s, has fallen behind. These days, even Japanese women are more likely to work than their American counterparts.
The second, longer article is over at The Guardian, Anne Chemin's "France’s baby boom secret: get women into work and ditch rigid family norms". Drawing heavily on interviewers with French demographers, it makes the argument that polities and cultures which exhibit greater flexibility around the idea of what a family could be are likely to see greater rates of family formation and reproduction than their more rigid counterparts.
[T]here is nothing mysterious about the approach that is working in both France and Scandinavia. It combines the idea of a modern family based on gender equality and powerful government policies. “Nowadays, both ingredients are needed to sustain the population,” Lesthaeghe asserts. “At first sight it seems a simple recipe, but it’s far from easy to put into practice: it takes a lot of time to design and establish a new family model.”
There is nothing straightforward or natural about “the family”. It is a very complex world based on social norms, what the American sociologist Ronald Rindfuss calls the “family package”. “In Japan, for instance, this package involves many constraints,” says Ined demographer Laurent Toulemon. “A woman entering into a relationship must also accept marriage, obey her husband, have a child, stop working after it is born and make room for her ageing in-laws. It’s a case of all or nothing. In France the package is more flexible: one doesn’t have to get married or have children. Norms are more open and families more diverse.”
Most countries in southern Europe are based on something akin to the Japanese package, with fairly rigid family norms in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Malta and Greece. There is social pressure on women not to work while their children are still young, just as it is ill-thought of to live with someone or have a baby outside wedlock. In all these countries the proportion of births outside marriage is below 30%, whereas in France, Sweden and Norway it exceeds 50%. In Japan the traditional family package clearly has a dramatic impact on fertility, with fewer than 1.4 births per woman.
The picture is very different in Scandinavia and France. “In these countries the family norm is much more flexible, with late marriages, reconstituted families, single parents, much more frequent births outside marriage and divorces than further south,” Toulemon adds. “People are far less concerned about the outlook for the family [as an institution].” The positive impact of this open-ended approach to families on fertility is borne out by the statistics, at more than 1.8 children per woman in Sweden, Norway, Finland and France.
The principle of gender equality and the necessary corollary of women being free to work are the key factors in this family model that emerged at the end of the 20th century. Yet in the 1960s-70s advocates of traditional family values claimed that the birthrate would be the first thing to suffer from this trend. Fifty years on it seems they were mistaken: fertility in Europe is higher in countries where women go out to work, lower in those where they generally stay at home. “Women’s freedom of decision is essential to this system,” Toulemon asserts.
The underlying theme of both of these articles is the question of whether or not what we might call the Franco-Nordic model can be copied easily, to other European countries, to high-income East Asia (Chemin specifically mentions Japan and South Korea), and beyond. An additional, interesting, question is whether or not this would make a difference. Even if Germany did switch tomorrow to the high-fertility French model, there would still be much demographic momentum tending towards poulation decline needing to be overcome. Thoughts?