Monday, July 13, 2009

Interesting NYT article on fertility rates

Here is a very interesting article in the NYT about fertility rates. It provides a interesting alternative explanation to the usual mainly traditionalist conservative arguments about the demographic problems of Europe. In summary the two contrasting arguments go as follow:

For the traditionlist conservatives plummeting birth rates are the result of modernity, some women rights, alienation from traditional cultures, individuality, and anti-nationalism. To this are added the American conservative arguments on the impact of the welfare state.

For the arguemnt presented in the NYT article is that a capitalist society to keep birthrates high needs to be one or more of three things: generous, felxible, or socially accepting to a cooperative gender roles. Societies that have flexible job markets (like the US) or a social welfare system aimed at faciliating child rearing (Scandinavia) show higher fertility rates then societies that lack either the first or second (Greece, Italy). Also needed though are social nroms that accept the idea of a wroking mother, and pressure fathers to take active part in the running of the house and child rearing (the US is very good at this, and so are some of the Northern European countries).

I tend to side with the second rather the first set of arguemtns, but I think both point to a validation of some "Marxist" scholarship that has streesed the transformative nature of capitalism. Once a country becomes capitalist (whether laissez faire, or social-democractic) the social norms will have to adjust to the new reality, or the society will be destroyed by the gap between economic and social system.

Here is the article