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Economic Uncertainty and Fertility in Europe: Narratives of the Future


Bazzani,  Giacomo
University of Florence, Italy;
Projekte von Gastwissenschaftlern und Postdoc-Stipendiaten, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Vignoli, D., Guetto, R., Bazzani, G., Pirani, E., & Minello, A. (2020). Economic Uncertainty and Fertility in Europe: Narratives of the Future. DiSIA Working Paper, 2020/01.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-C7AE-7
Background: In the last decade fertility rates have declined in most European countries, and explanations have tended to focus on the rise of economic uncertainty after the Great Recession. The empirical demographic tradition operationalized the forces of economic uncertainty through objective indicators of individuals’ labor market situation; for example, holding a temporary contract or being unemployed. However, contemporary European fertility trends are not comprehensively captured by these traditional indicators and statistical models, because fertility decisions are not a mere “statistical shadow of the past”.
Objective: We propose a novel framework on economic uncertainty and fertility. This framework proffers that the conceptualization and operationalization of economic uncertainty needs to take into account that people use works of imagination, producing their own “narrative of the future” – namely, imagined futures embedded in social elements and their interactions. Narratives of the future allow people to act according to or in spite of the uncertainty they face, irrespective of structural constraints and their subjective perceptions.
Contribution: In this reflection we suggest that the focus of contemporary fertility studies should partly shift to assessing how people build their narratives of the future. To this end, we propose several methodological strategies to empirically assess the role of narratives for fertility decisions. Future studies should also take into account that personal narratives are shaped by the “shared narratives” produced by several agents of socialization, such as parents and peers, as well as by the narratives produced by the media and other powerful opinion formers.