Sex Matters

“Low birthrates aren’t the result of economic growth and political stability; they’re a prerequisite”

via (Foreign Policy)

Modernization theory is a fascinating intersection between the disciplines of comparative politics and human geography. Amongst other ideas, Modernization Theory holds that a society’s level of social and political development is preceded (or corresponds) to its economic development. As Barringtom More put it famously in Social Order of Dictatorship and Democracy, “no bourgeoisie no democracy”  From the geography side, Rostow’s model identifies the various stages of economic development  One cannot expect a society to achieve any measure of economic or political success if your society is struggling to feed its population, if people are dying from endemic diseases, or regularly at the barricades. Low birthrates also have important political consequences, as evidenced in Inglehart and company’s World Values Survey program.  Inglehart, and later Inglehart and Welzel demonstrate that as societies move from traditional to modern to postmodern levels of development, the culture, values, and politics of these societies are reflective of these macro-social changes.  In short, the more post-modern a society becomes, the less concerned they become about conventional interests of survival and preservation, and focus more on rational and self-expressive concerns.

The low birthrates found in Europe, and increasingly in the United States and other societies, are a necessary precondition to the economic and political development these societies have been experiencing over the past few centuries.  As the authors of the Foreign Policy article correctly assert, “Soaring unemployment, endemic poverty, and flailing schools are quite simply impossible to combat when every year adds more and more people.”

One thing that is often overlooked with these analyses is the lag effect of these population declines.  If societies slow their birthrates in order to help achieve a measure of economic success and political stability, and this in turn leads to the adoption of secular-rational and self-expressive values, who will/how will these societies replicate themselves in the future?  Already, demographic declines in Europe are creating significant challenges for governments across the EU; covering issues as diverse as workforce and migration to religion and social behaviors.  Population bubbles in the United States [see today’s results from the Pew Social Trends on the emerging generation gap in the U.S.], Russia and Iran impact everything from elections and public policy to the nature of economic activity.  A society that values a high degree of self-expressive values will have a different commitment to work and economic productivity than a society seeking to ‘get to the top’. As Longman argued in The Return of Patriarchy (Foreign Policy, 2006), conservatives (those in the conservative to moderate range of Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World) will be the inheritors of the next generation, simply because they have more children per family.  Whether or not such a ‘conservative baby-boom’ will have an impact on the economy and politics remains to be seen, but its certainly worth keeping attuned to for the foreseeable future.

About Charlie Gleek

Ph.D. student in Comparative Studies and graduate instructor in the Department of English at Florida Atlantic University. My work takes place around intersections of postcolonial literature, quantitative literary analysis, and digital humanities.

Posted on 29/06/2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sex Matters.

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