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January 06, 2008


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Very interesting, as ever. This is probably a dumb question, but what is your assessment of the general attitude towards immigrants in Spain? I have the impression that opinion is less hostile than in the USA or UK.

Noel Maurer

It's hard to say. (I wish I could get Nidia to comment here; she would know.) A couple weeks is not enough time to get a sense of the attitude towards immigrants, unless the place is undergoing a period of unusual acceptance or unusual xenophobia.

I did have the ironic (but unsurprising) experience of listening to a group of Latin American immigrants to Spain bad-mouth their African equivalents. I wouldn't draw too much of that. I also met a large number of successful professional Argentines, who've integrated perfectly; but that's the equivalent of an Australian moving to London, and doesn't tell you a whole lot.

Still, immigrants weren't in the news much, except when a big wave of boats hits the Canaries or someone dies crossing the Med,
and immigration wasn't a topic in any of the (almost certainly unrepresentative) bar conversations I wandered into. That contrasts with Britain and America ... but no bets as to how long it lasts.

Leticia? I think you might have a better sense of this than I do.


That's a big dip in the cohort born during WWII. I would have expected it for the preceding years. Do you know what happened (and why the anomalous year)?

Leticia Arroyo Abad

Interesting post. Of course the annoying econ historian has to frown upon the line "Almost all of Europe is “low fertility” by historical standards,..."

Regarding the general attitude towards immigrants in Spain vs. the US, I can draw upon experience. My fellow Argentineans in Spain can indeed integrate but complain about not being treated equally. (When the first wave of Argentineans arrived in Spain after the crisis, I visited Bilbao and the immigration officer was convinced I was attempting to stay there for good -showing my green card solved that problem-).

In the US, the attitude depends on the region -the Midwest seems not to be comfortable with 'different' people for example-, level of education, and country of origin.

I do agree that the US seems much more opposed to immigration than Spain but by no means I see Spain as an immigrant welcoming country.

Noel Maurer

Carlos: I've blown up the pyramid for the relevant years, and appended it to the end of the post.

I don't think the decline is related to WW2: it starts in 1938, and continues monotonically through 1940, before rebounding.

The war "officially" ended in February 1939, but Franco carried out massive reprisals against his enemies. Numbers are hard to come by, but the regime ironically played the full Stalinist book, including labor camps and mass executions, accompanied by the exodus of about 2 percent of the population.

I don't know of any books about the scale of the disorder /following/ the Civil War, but this demographic profile implies that people's everyday lives might have been /more/ disrupted by the aftermath of the war in 1939 and '40 than by the heaviest fighting.

Make sense?


IMS the Spanish economy was also pretty thoroughly trashed by the final year of the war, and didn't recover for a couple of years.

Interesting post! Based on my experiences in the post-Communist world, though, I'd be very slow to make a connection between TFR and public attitudes towards children. Serbs utterly love children, to the point where pregnant women and mothers with small kids are automatically shunted to the front of lines. That particular habit might be a holdover from Communist days, but it's part and parcel. Kids are cooed over constantly. Strangers will help a mother lift a stroller over a curb or down stairs to the Metro. And Claudia still remembers the breezy day when she dared to take one-year-old Alan out with no hat. (She was stopped three times in the first three blocks.)

Nevertheless, Serbia has a very very low TFR, and that's been true for a while now.

Armenia and Romania, same to a first approximation. I'd say that Romanians are a bit less wacky about kids than Serbs, while Armenians are as wacky but less demonstrative (Armenians are a rather reserved people in many ways), but both are well ahead of Americans. Nevertheless, once again, both countries have rock-bottom TFRs.

My tentative hypothesis is that public child-friendliness (needs to be a word for that) is almost irrelevant to fertility decisions. This may be because having strangers stop and coo over babies, while nice, is not all that useful to would-be parents.

Here's another data point: Germany is probably the most restrained country in this regard IME. Germans don't coo much, nor are mothers of small kids given particular consideration. Children are not particularly welcome in adult venues. German even has a word for general hostility to children: 'kinderfeindlichkeit'.

But Germany's TFR, while low, is higher than Spain's or Serbia's. I suspect this is connected to the fact that while individual Germans may not be gaga over children, German government and society are pretty child-friendly: parents get a per-child allowance, there are major tax breaks, good health care is cheap and universal, daycare is easy to find, parks and playgrounds are everywhere. While Germans may not like kids, Germany does.

As to the third prong of the demographic trap: I don't think it's so much about people having small children because "that's what they're used to". After all, history shows that TFRs can move dramatically in just a few years. But I could see an infrastructure problem, for broad definitions of "infrastructure": when one kid is the norm, society adapts to that norm, and it gets harder to go outside it. At one level, fewer houses and apartments suitable for multi-child families may get built. More subtly, political and social structures may shift to make it hard to have more kids, because everyone is "expecting" one or at most two kids.

Now I'm rambling too. But it's an interesting topic!


Doug M.

Noel Maurer

Doug: yeah, I agree that a society's attitude towards children is probably irrelevant ... but I can't help thinking that the chances of a large turnaround in birthrates (ceteris paribus) are more likely in a country with attitudes like Spain or Serbia than in a country like Germany.

I don't buy the physical infrastructure argument for the same reasons that led both of us to conclude that attitudes towards small children don't have much effect on fertility. Physical infrastructure changes far too rapidly in most countries.

Here's a fun bit of evidence. That secret population pyramid that nobody's asked about? It's /Brooklyn/. (I have a similar one for Buenos Aires. Apologies to Leticia; I went with Brooklyn instead.)

Special cases aside, I don't think there's much evidence that the built environment has a big independent impact. (As opposed, of course, to being shaped by the desires of the society.)

But I am highly intrigued by the idea that you could lock-in low birthrates via the political and social "infrastructure." Could you give me an example of the kind of thing you're thinking about?


Ah. That makes more sense. (Wobbly labels on the larger one. The designers need to read Tufte.)

The 1941 spike is interesting. Too large to be random. I remember the long list of goods Franco requested from Hitler as a sweetener to join the Axis. Were the Allies more forthcoming that single year in order to keep Franco neutral?

Another possibility is that the spread of diseases which disproportionately affect infant mortality was somehow curtailed -- I can think of positive ways (improved public health) and negative ways (disruption of transportation).

Leticia, I'm curious about your remark about the American Midwest. The region loses 0.2% of its population a year due to internal domestic migration, but increases its foreign-born population by 5%. [numbers fixed]


It's six in the jet-lagged morning here, but I'll take a first whack.

Romania. Lived three years there, know it pretty well. Romania suffers terribly from a sort of cultural inertia on this topic.

See, up until the 1960s, everyone had huge families. Like Third World huge. Romania had one of the highest TFRs in Europe. It was a peasant society with a small middle class, and there were strong economic and cultural imperatives to have five or six kids.

Then in the 1960s the TFR started falling. Ceausescu tried to keep them up artificially, with some success (at a horribly high price), but after 1990 they collapsed to one of the lowest in Europe and they've stayed there since.

This change came in parallel with another: one of the fastest urbanizations in Europe. Before WWII, 90% of the country was rural peasants, and Romania was still a predominantly rural society well into the 1970s. But today the average Romanian lives in a city (usually in an apartment). Heck, around 15% of the population is in or around Bucharest.

But Romanian culture has been really slow to acknowledge these changes. Until recently, everything -- private attitudes, public policy -- was based on a paradigm that everyone was part of a big extended family, with brothers and sisters and, god damn, lots and lots of cousins. This was a rural paradigm: half the village is going to be related to you. It's grotesquely inappropriate to modern Romanian society, which is all DINCs or people with one or at most two kids (except the Roma, of course) living mostly in urban apartment blocks with no family nearby other than maybe a parent or two.

The most famous consequence of this is Romania's orphan problem. This got blamed on Ceausescu, and certainly he was part of the problem, but by now pretty much all the kids born under Ceausescu have grown up. But Romania still has a big orphan problem. Why? Because there's an underlying policy assumption that the extended family will take care of orphaned kids. It's not even really "underlying". In the debate over foreign adoptions a few years back, again and again we saw politicians and religious leaders saying "it's better for these kids to find homes with the extended family". This despite the fact that (1) obviously, it wasn't working that way, and (2) most Romanians no longer have extended families.

(My best friend in Romania was a co-worker, a divorced woman with a school-age son. We once sat down and figured it out: my friend, born in the late 1950s, had something like nine aunts and uncles and thirty-some first cousins. Her son, born in the 1990s, had two aunts, one uncle, and three first cousins.)

I was really struck by how pervasive these assumptions were. They affected everything from building codes to inheritance laws. The policy makers and all their friends might have just one kid each, but there seemed to be an almost desperate belief that someone, somewhere, was still growing up in the extended family that they remembered from their own childhoods.

You'd expect this would slow down the collapse of the TFR, but I think it's had if anything the opposite effect. To give a specific example, Romania is still full of housing stock that's designed for multichild families. Much of this stock is crappy Communist-era apartments, but put that aside: Romania has millions of flats with lots of tiny rooms.

This goes, BTW, against the "physical infrastructure changes rapidly" argument: it *can* change rapidly, but only if (1) people are knocking down old stuff and building new, and (2) the new stuff reflects the changes. In Romania, the government was still building large numbers of multichild flats well into the 1990s, and I had the impression that the construction industry was only just starting to respond to price signals in the early 2000s. Putting aside the insanities of Communism, that's still a decade of lag. 1990s Romania wasn't exactly a model combination of political flexibility and the free market, but then most societies aren't.

There are other "infrastructure" issues out there. Inheritance laws, for instance. The Anglo-American model of libertarian inheritance, where I can leave it all to the Ron Paul campaign or my cat, is very much an exception in the world; most societies (and almost all in Europe) mandate that some of the estate be set aside for minor children and/or spouses. In most cases, the laws on this reflect a social consensus from decades or generations back. There are European countries where half the estate of a parent automatically goes into trust for the minor children. That makes sense if there are a lot of minor children; less so, if there's only one.

Okay, I know there are more examples, but I'm going to try to catch an hour of sleep now.

Doug M.

Noel Maurer

Get some sleep!

I like your point about lagging cultural assumptions. What I'm not following is where they give people incentives to have fewer children.

Well, that's not totally true. The orphan problem is a big one: I'd expect a lack of provisions for adoption to reduce birthrates.

I'd also guess that Romania doesn't make a lot of provision for childcare or maternity leave, and generally makes it tough for mothers to work. That's going to reduce birthrates as well.

I hang on the apartment issue: why would a surfeit of multi-room apartments discourage family formation? Or are you talking about a general housing shortage? That's a different thing. Same on inheritance laws: why would they affect birthrates?

Leticia: second on Carlos's question. He's from Wisconsin, by the way, and you can learn a lot about your home from the perception of outsiders.


If I were from Minneapolis or Chicago, I'd be even more confused.

The percentage of foreign born residents in the region is low, but the rates of increase are high, and have been for twenty years.

(There was a lost generation, but that was while the already low-density Midwest was losing 2% of its population a year, its cities much more so, and immigration was still an urban and not suburban affair. Only Chicago maintained.)

Noel Maurer

I'm tempted to comment, Carlos, but I don't want to lead the conversation ... because I'm really curious about Leticia's experience in the Heartland!

Leticia Arroyo Abad

Oh the Heartland! I don't personally miss it at all. (I lived in Kansas for 3 years.) My personal experience was that I was too different there, my English not American enough and my manners way too Latin.

I also worked at the Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Kansas, we had an outreach program that was quite popular. I remember teachers complaining that the state of Kansas would not fund Spanish language courses and offered scarce support for ESL courses.

I have also first hand experience with the relatively important community of Latinos in Kansas City. I worked for a short time with Hispanic high school kids trying to convey the idea of how important education was in their future (this project was not publicly funded).

The figures that Carlos point are indeed interesting. Yet, an increase in population due to migration does not imply integration.

Another tidbit of information that I ran across today. From the Pew Global Attitudes Project: We should further restrict migration. (% agree)
U.S. 77%
Spain 75%
Italy 87%


in three years no one mentioned that kansas is a plains state? culturally speaking, kansas has more in common with texas than, say, ohio or wisconsin, the other great lakes states.

kansas city is in missouri (another border state), which v many midwesterners (as well as the venerable monthly publication titled "southern living") consider to be a southern state. except for st. louis, mo, which ... I have never looked into it, but I suspect its cultural inclusion has everything to do with its location + trade. god knows that IL more than 250 miles past the wisconsin border starts to look pretty suspiciously twangy as well.

Leticia Arroyo Abad

I lived in Lawrence, KS, I think the only democrat district in the state (until it was conveniently divided). Hence, it was not bad, it is a nice college town.
Also, I spent some time in Lincoln, KS (the geographical center of the country).
Regarding Kansas City, although I volunteered in the Kansan part of the city, I see your point. Historically speaking it was a slave state.


I suppose I could dig out those statistics on intermarriage between ethnic groups in the U.S. again. They strongly suggest that integration is occurring at a basic level.

The Midwest is actually a rather heterogenous grouping. Culturally, there's been little crossover along the north-south axis. Even today, a good rule of thumb is that cultural attitudes will be closer to the state east than to the state south. (Indiana is an interesting exception: it got taken over by the Klan during the 1920s. No joke.)

But these microclines have macro-consequences. Minneapolis today looks much more like Seattle than it does St. Louis. And the same was true a hundred years ago.

Noel Maurer

Carlos: wasn't Ohio a Klan stronghold in the 1920s? That would make Illinois the exception, not Indiana.

It would be interesting to see those statistics on a state level. Large-scale immigration to Kansas and similar states is a recent phenomenon, and I'd be surprised if there were many signs of assimilation.

In addition, it's possible to have de facto assimilation combined with attitudes that make it hard for second-generation Americans to completely relax. An example would be a place where somebody with a local accent and local mannerism still manages to run into the "where are you from?" question on a regular basis. Or a strange reaction to Latin manners. No?

(Leticia's English, I should add, is almost native. I'm not sure a New Yorker would notice the difference, figuring that everybody talks like that in California, which is obviously where she's from.)

Finally, there is one disturbing result for Mexican-Americans, which is that they lag behind on indicators of educational attainment into the third generation. One possible explanation, of course, is that the most successful Mexican-Americans tend to marry non-Mexican-Americans, and their children no longer identify as Mexican-Americans. Nonetheless, isn't that a sign that something might be going a little askew?

Open questions --- as you know, Carlos, I tend towards the pollyanish on assimilation-related questions, albeit for sound data-related reasons.


Well, I've had that happen, but it usually evinces itself as a sort of sitcom awkwardness. True, it makes me uncomfortable, but frankly, I am pretty far out on the bell curve of uncomfortability anyway.

I'd hesitate to impart bad motives to this sort of small talk, when the standard conversational strategy is to find out what town or relatives you might have in common, and I was one of the first. But Wisconsin had a lost generation. Kansas has two. I came of age right on the cusp of the generational divide, and that change was sharp.

(Now, the freakin' jockey lawn ornaments in my hometown, they disturb me. At least they aren't new -- do they even make new ones? -- and they're always grouped with other aesthetically horrible lawn art. But people, come on. Why do you want to make Donald Driver sad?)

The Klan: unlike Indiana, Ohio as a whole was not a Klan stronghold. It was a Klan battlefield against 'ethnic whites', to use the Chicago term, and the governor imposed martial law during some of the violence.

Klan membership followed pretty closely settlement patterns. You remember how demographers talked about that rather retrograde population in central Pennsylvania during the last election? Scotch-Irish. Same thing with the Klan in Ohio, except many areas which had Klan support rapidly became 'ethnic white' after they collapsed.

In the case of Indiana, much of the state was settled through Kentucky, with later migrants and immigrants passing through -- the original 'flyover country'.


"Historically speaking it was a slave state."

yes, missouri and kansas, both, yes, and 150 points to you for knowing even one single thing (possibly, secretly, more!) about any state not on either coast of the lower 48 when you are not born & reared there. applause! clapping!

that cleared up to my shimmering glee, I have to say that I do v much agree with yr original assertion, to say that midwesterners are not v welcoming, but really, midwesterners are not v welcoming to anyone (!!!) from any other places. why? because they cannot be bothered usually to learn even one single thing about those states from the great plains to the rust belt! they should go right home!! (it is only funny because it is true.)

although as a gal from that biggest city of the great lakes region, I do confess a certain weakness for that old new england's yankee can-can-can-do.

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