The Inadequacies of Current Theory on Very Low Fertility: Lessons from the Italian Case

David I. Kertzer, Brown University
Laura Bernardi, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Demographers have offered two main lines of theory to explain the unanticipated emergence of very low fertility in a rapidly expanding number of countries. One stresses economic and political economic factors, in good part linked to the upsurge of women in the labor force and to the extent of state support for childbearing and childrearing. The other, identified with Second Demographic Transition Theory, stresses changing values, particularly weakened family ties and increases in emphasis on individual self-fulfillment. This paper looks at the case of Italy, which by the early 1990s had virtually the lowest fertility rate in the world, offering new evidence to show the inadequacies in both major demographic theoretical approaches to the explanation of very low fertility. Evidence from two recent nationally representative surveys, utilizing life history data, is combined with results from recently completed intensive ethnographic research in four Italian cities to offer an alternative explanatory model.

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Presented in Session 128: Variations in the Lowest-Low Fertility