4.1.3 Gender and the demographic transition
Perhaps the key elements that exist in a symbiotic relationship with fertility decline are the global changes to women’s roles and their political and economic status.
Added to this is the availability of the means by which women can control their fertility, through political engagement, education and employment and birth control. As many would point out, however, there are still many factors that keep women subordinate and dependent and without control over their own bodies; it is an incomplete process.
France is among those few countries in Europe who feel they are doing something right in relation to fertility rates. After two decades of decline, France’s fertility rate started to pick up in the late 1990s. France now consistently tops the European rankings.
The approach working in France (and elsewhere, such as several Scandinavian countries) combines high levels of gender equality with pro-natalist government policies. This results in working families with lots of options supported by good quality and state funded childcare.
The fertility rate is high in European countries where family norms are flexible, women feel free to work, pro-child policies are generous and childcare is well organised – in short, in countries that have come to terms with gender equality. ‘The ability of society to adapt is crucial,’ concludes Toulemon. ‘If family traditions cannot be adjusted to suit the new political reality of gender equality, it results in a de facto refusal to bear children.’
Next, find out more about the effects of the worldwide demographic transition.