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Could economics explain rising birth rates?

July 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Fertility rates are pretty low across the developed world (and beyond) – below the replacement level almost everywhere. But in some countries they’re especially low.

Germany and Italy are (or rather were) the stand out examples – with totality fertility rates of less than 1.5 children per woman. But according to The Economist, the Germans appear to be reversing the decline:

Credit: The Economist

“By the early 1980s East and West Germany had a combined fertility rate lower than anywhere in the world except Denmark and the Channel Islands. Far from exploding, Germany’s population seemed doomed to rapid decline.

“But in the past few years something unexpected has happened. The fertility rate, an estimate of the number of children each woman can expect to have in her lifetime, has climbed off the floor. Between 2006 and 2017 it rose from 1.33 to 1.57.”

No such happy news for Italy though. So why the difference? The Economist‘s anonymous author considers various explanations – such as immigration patterns and social attitudes to working mothers. However, there’s one factor that goes completely unmentioned: The Italian economy, which, unlike Germany’s, has barely grown over the last 20 years. Per capita GDP is the same now as it was in 1999. Youth unemployment is almost 40% in Italy and less than 10% in Germany.

Perhaps that has something to do with the divergence in birth rates – one country clearly having a lot more to hope for than the other.

What makes it worse is that German growth and Italian stagnation are clearly linked through the structural constraints and biases of the Eurozone. It should be no surprise that Italy, deprived of a conventional way out of its malaise, has turned to unconventional politics instead.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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