Nearly 250 years ago, two regions of the world experienced a major demographic depression: New England (an American region then a British crown colony) and France (then the leading European power). Two revolutions will follow that will change the face of the world. However, today, the beginnings of a global demographic crisis are visible: UN projections show that the world population should reach its peak around 2100 and then experience a drop. Some welcome it, others worry about it. Tomas Pueyo, Franco-Spanish, graduate of Centrale and Stanford (USA), considers that this demographic depression would be an avoidable catastrophe (see his essay in link). Having studied in depth the precedents of the 18th century, he exposes the reasons for such an upheaval and draws the consequences for our world today.
The economy does not explain the demographic transition
Until recently, it was commonly believed that declining fertility was due to an economic equation : we have fewer children when the benefit/cost ratio of having them becomes less attractive. Urbanization and the virtualization of work would have reduced the need for labor while the cost of education would discourage potential parents. If these explanations were valid, fertility rates in New England and France in the 18th century should have fallen with the Industrial Revolution, when people began to migrate en masse to the cities and the way of life improved dramatically. thanks to the accumulated wealth. And since the industrial revolution started at the beginning of the 19th century in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, these two countries should have seen their fertility rates fall before the others... This is not the case: the first significant drop occurred as early as the mid-18th century in France and New England – yet much poorer than the first of the industrial revolution (France will not reach the GDP per capita of England in 1750 until 1850 !). Moreover, the demographic transition in England will only occur between 1870 and 1920, that is to say a century after the start of the industrial revolution. If the theory of economic primacy were solid, we would have seen the decline in fertility occur first in England and the Netherlands. Undoubtedly the fall in infant mortality thanks to progress in hygiene has played a role. But usually (as with the "baby boom" of the 20th century), mortality falls first before fertility follows suit. In the France of 1750, the two rates collapsed together. Why ? Would we have married there less? No: celibacy in France, stable until the Revolution, on the contrary fell afterwards. The average age of the bride and groom only increased in the 19th century. It is therefore the number of children per household that has fallen… How can this be explained?
Links with political revolutions
It was in New England that the American Revolutionary War began in opposition to a geographically distant royal power. The French Revolution followed against a socially distant royal power. In both cases, it was the established order that was targeted. The ideas of separation between Church and State, and of popular sovereignty, slowly germinated after the invention of the printing press and the cultural revolution of the Renaissance. It seems that a major weakening of the Catholic Church in France played a central role in the demographic fall. Tomas Pueyo observed two phenomena: fewer donations to the Church on wills and a drop in the density of the clergy in the country. Above all, this evolution has not been uniform: on the contrary, Pueyo observes growing gaps between regions, some, like Provence, showing an opposite evolution in reaction. The rejection of the institutions first targeted the Church while profoundly dividing the country… The regions bordering France followed the same evolution. Same phenomenon in New England where we observe in particular the fall in attendance at worship.
The Triumph of Liberalism: The Political and Sexual Revolutions
Tomas Pueyo comes to the conclusion that it was a cultural upheaval, namely the influence of liberal ideas, which caused the demographic and political revolutions of the 18th century. The industrial revolution acted as an accelerator, not as a trigger. Besides, the rest of Europe did not revolt against its monarchs until the 19th century (1848). On the contrary, nowadays, the high fertility rates in Israel and in the Muslim world are to be linked to their strong religiosity…
There is therefore not a fatal link between economic progress and demographic depression. A world more attached to its cultural, even religious identity, concludes Tomas Pueyo, is a more fertile world… And fertility is a pledge of political stability at a time of strong migratory pressure.