June 28, 2008


No Babies? (RUSSELL SHORTO, 6/29/08, NY Times Magazine)

IT WAS A SPECTACULAR LATE-MAY AFTERNOON IN SOUTHERN ITALY,but the streets of Laviano — a gloriously situated hamlet ranged across a few folds in the mountains of the Campania region — were deserted. There were no day-trippers from Naples, no tourists to take in the views up the steep slopes, the olive trees on terraces, the ruins of the 11th-century fortress with wild poppies spotting its grassy flanks like flecks of blood. And there were no locals in sight either. The town has housing enough to support a population of 3,000, but fewer than 1,600 live here, and every year the number drops. Rocco Falivena, Laviano’s 56-year-old mayor, strolled down the middle of the street, outlining for me the town’s demographics and explaining why, although the place is more than a thousand years old, its buildings all look so new. In 1980 an earthquake struck, taking out nearly every structure and killing 300 people, including Falivena’s own parents. Then from tragedy arose the scent of possibility, of a future. Money came from the national government in Rome, and from former residents who had emigrated to the U.S. and elsewhere. The locals found jobs rebuilding their town. But when the construction ended, so did the work, and the exodus of residents continued as before.

When Falivena took office in 2002 for his second stint as mayor, two numbers caught his attention. Four: that was how many babies were born in the town the year before. And five: the number of children enrolled in first grade at the school, never mind that the school served two additional communities as well. [...]

DEMOGRAPHICALLY SPEAKING, Laviano is not unique in Italy, or in Europe. In fact, it may be a harbinger. In the 1990s, European demographers began noticing a downward trend in population across the Continent and behind it a sharply falling birthrate. Non-number-crunchers largely ignored the information until a 2002 study by Italian, German and Spanish social scientists focused the data and gave policy makers across the European Union something to ponder. The figure of 2.1 is widely considered to be the “replacement rate” — the average number of births per woman that will maintain a country’s current population level. At various times in modern history — during war or famine — birthrates have fallen below the replacement rate, to “low” or “very low” levels. But Hans-Peter Kohler, José Antonio Ortega and Francesco Billari — the authors of the 2002 report — saw something new in the data. For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover. Kohler and his colleagues invented an ominous new term for the phenomenon: “lowest-low fertility.”

To the uninitiated, “lowest low” seems a strange thing to worry about. A few decades ago we were getting “the population explosion” drilled into us.

...the "natalists" don't seem so hysterical, huh? And those who remain Antlanticist seem even more delusional--Europe can never matter again.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 28, 2008 3:32 PM

The linked article is very good and it's worth the time to read the whole thing. Paul Erlich is doubling down on his idiocy.

Posted by: Patrick H at June 28, 2008 5:07 PM

Europeans experience the ultimate 'Seinfeld' existence. It's about nothing beyond momentary narcissism.

It has been interesting to see this develop over time. As the strain builds on European welfare state finances, the state focuses on its clients (current, aging voters), directing more and more resources towards them and thus away from the younger people who might have kids but no longer feel they can afford them.

Individual middle-aged people often do care about their own kids, but the welfare state took away and absorbed all their civic functions so long ago that they don't even know any more that there is a wider public decision to be made, about the intergenerational allocation of resources.

Thus the leviathan shuffles on, uncomprehending and unconcerned about its own demise...

Posted by: ZF at June 28, 2008 6:51 PM

Guess this'd be just another "five year plan" that didn't work.


Posted by: Mike at June 28, 2008 7:07 PM

Ona typical year my street has a couple times as many babies as an Italian town. Wow.

Posted by: JAB at June 29, 2008 1:08 AM

Gentlemen, if you had actually taken the time to read the article you would see that the situation is not so simple. Indeed, Scandinavian birth rates seem to be doing just fine as a result of government inervention and subsidies. Whereas, countries where women are still forced to be in traditional roles (Italy, Japan, etc.) are eperiencing the worst drop in birth rates.

Posted by: Oddbark at June 29, 2008 5:33 AM

Actually, it's exactly that simple:


That's why we're Stupid.

Posted by: oj at June 29, 2008 8:20 AM

The older Italian couple next door has two kids and the younger Italian up the street just had his first. It's just a function of culture. Europe has none.

Posted by: oj at June 29, 2008 8:25 AM
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