Societies that are traditional + affluent have low birth rates
Although complex factors are said to affect birth rate, ranging from female literacy to attitudes towards contraception, affluence is thought to be an influencing factor. It is generally believed that affluent societies produce fewer children than poorer ones, for a myriad reasons! After an initial decline however, the affluent populations of America and north-western Europe are showing signs of some stability and even growth in fertility rates, and apparently this is not just because of immigration. On the other hand, in other affluent societies like Japan and South Korea, birth rates are still falling. The picture in Japan looks particularly scary (graph from the Economist):
In fact Japan’s population as a whole will decrease to 95 million – it was 128 m in 2005. And the over sixties will constitute the biggest group!
Italy also has one of the lowest birth rates in the world…but the population is rising again…although slowly.
What makes Japan different? The latest issue of the Economist (cover story: 26th Jul-3rd August) provides the answer:
As traditional societies modernise, fertility falls. In traditional societies with modern economies—Japan and Italy, for instance—fertility falls the most. And in societies which make breeding and working compatible, by contrast, women tend to do both.
In other words, if men help women with family responsibilities this encourages their women to have more kids…
Rich countries have more working women than poor countries
Women in affluent economies tend to go out to work…in fact that is one of the main reasons why the economy is thriving! O.K. Lets get back to the basics: More women in the workforce can mean a thriving economy. Quoting from an earlier issue of The Economist:
…the increase in female employment in the rich world has been the main driving force of growth in the past couple of decades. Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants.
And this isn’t even counting womens’ productivity at home…in housework and rearing kids. But if a woman is working full-time and she doesn’t have help or support at home, she will have fewer kids. Maybe just one, not sufficient to replace the population.
But in western countries not only do men help out at home…companies provide flexible work timings, shorter working hours for women and good day-care is available everywhere. In a traditional society, women are encouraged to stay at home and many drop out of the work-force after marriage. The men seem to make up for it…by working very hard and very long hours. Like in Japan.
The Economist cites another big disadvantage of traditional societies…men often tend to socialise with other men at work, and its often a part of the company culture to do so… This results in even longer hours away from home…combine this with a nuclear family structure and its the woman alone who is left holding the baby. This discourages even a stay-at-home mom from having more than one child.
I cannot help but see this in the context of India. We are a traditional society, and today our birth rates are high…because the majority of women either look after the family full-time or they do it in conjunction with part-time agricultural work. Also the joint family is still common in some urban areas. But with increasing urbanisation (India is moving towards this), increasing women in the work-force and the break up of the joint family…women will need help. From their partners and from the companies they work for. But right now at least boys are pampered in our society and thus it is unlikely that traditional male attitudes towards housework and rearing children will change in the near future. But its possible, as I think it is happening in Italy (birth rates are stabilizing)…but this is just a guess.
If our society and our corporations adjust to the change (more women working) India need never face the prospect of a declining population.