Takayama, Noriyuki, and Martin Werding, eds.: Fertility and Public Policy: How to Reverse the Trend of Declining Birth Rates.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Plikuhn, Mari
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Fertility and Public Policy: How to Reverse the Trend of Declining Birth Rates (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Takayama, Noriyuki; Werding, Martin
Accession Number: 294895903
Full Text: Takayama, Noriyuki, and Martin Werding, eds. Fertility and Public Policy: How to Reverse the Trend of Declining Birth Rates. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. vi + 283 pages. Cloth, $35.00.

With reports from United Nations demographers that the world's population reached seven billion in October 2011, global media pronounced a population explosion surging numbers of people higher and forecasted a future that looked ever more likely to be crowded. Yet those who study demography, both at the national and global levels, know that numbers can be deceiving in understanding how and why populations change and the direction that the global population is heading. Unlike a Malthusian future where the positive population checks of famine, war, or disease are the only method of halting excessive population expansion, people with resources in developed countries are more likely to take preventative measures in having fewer children than previous generations, thus leading to either slowed growth or population decline. With increased education and access to family planning resources, this trend is beginning to spread to developing countries as well. In fact, the UN estimates that the world population will begin to level off to replacement levels, where people produce only enough children to replace themselves, near mid-twenty-first century.

Stemming from a series of interrelated, international papers presented at a "Fertility and Public Policy" conference held in Munich in February 2008, Fertility and Public Policy." How to Reverse the Trend of Declining Birth Rates delves deeper into policies that address concerns with future declining fertility at a time when the current global rise in population takes center stage. In addition to an introductory essay, ten substantive essays written by an international group of authors center around two overarching questions: (1) why does population growth halt or decline; and, (2) what can or should a nation do to reverse a faltering population?

Throughout these essays, careful attention is paid to the causes underlying population stagnation and decline, and how policies enacted are designed to combat or negate them. In particular, policies that make it easier to rear and provide for children are presented to be at the forefront of treatment plans for declining fertility concerns within several countries, notably France, South Korea, and Sweden. Sound arguments are provided by the contributing authors that illustrate the detrimental effects of population decline and provide a descriptive picture of the problems nations would encounter in supporting older generations and allocating resources within the age structure when fertility declines. Furthermore, several of the essays describe the effectiveness of policies in controlling population, whether curbing growth as in China or in stimulating growth as in several states in Europe and Asia.

The underlying assumption of most of the essays in this book seems to be that policies should exist to prevent fertility from dipping below replacement levels--an assumption with which some would strongly disagree. Critics of population control mechanisms, such as broad public policy, point to their limited effectiveness and potential for unintended consequences. Indeed, several contributing authors highlight these two concerns in determining which policies will have the most impact in effecting population decline. Yet, as one author argues, though it is short-sighted to believe that population will regulate itself without policies in place "reducing constraints" (p. 69), enacting policies that are unsupported in research is irrational. Rather, the goal should not be to enact a policy for the sake of policy, but to carefully and intentionally study the requirements of individual societies to determine the social needs and cultural behaviors that would be supported by specific, data-driven policies. This frequent theme of the need for stronger empirical research before policy application is found in each of these essays, and abates concerns that the authors ignored important issues in policy as it relates to fertility and population control.

This book offers an international perspective on changing fertility patterns and countries where population policies have been tried, with or without success; however, the authors do not address population policy concerns in the United States beyond noting that it has higher than European fertility rates that are near or above replacement levels. Though not a criticism of the research within this book, readers looking for insight on current population pressures that exist in the United States and potential policies designed to relieve those pressures may need to consult other sources aimed specifically at those concerns.

The contributing authors provide a thorough overview of their two central questions regarding reasons for population decline and public policy used to address the concerns that decline may bring. The individual essays are well-written, nicely integrated into the whole of the text, and highlight a realistic picture of global fertility patterns and concerns today and across the next century. Fertility and Public Policy would be useful and appropriate for undergraduate or graduate level courses in demography, public policy, or family as it addresses issues central to each of these fields of study.

Mari Plikuhn, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Sociology

University of Evansville

Evansville, Indiana
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