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  • Population Policies:An Integrated Approach (Preface to the 2009 Quetelet Symposium on Population Policies)
  • Ester L. Rizzi, Catherine Gourbin, and Pau Baizán


In November 2009 the Research Center on Demography and Societies (Centre de Recherche en Démographie et Societies, Louvain-la-Neuve) organized its 35th Quetelet seminar. The main theme was "Population Policies in Europe and North America."

It is in the tradition of Chaire Quetelet seminars to address emerging topics in demography. Of course, the theme of population policies is not new, but it seemed to us and to the colleagues of the Research Center in Louvain that a reformulation of the topic was in progress, and that reflections and propositions were needed.

The main theme of the seminar was split into four sub-themes, which were explored and developed over the course of the three-day seminar: 1) the evolution and definition of population policies, 2) migration policies and policies for the integration of migrants, 3) family policies and policies that support fertility, and 4) policies for ageing.

Many participants attempted to answer the following critical questions: What are the aims of population policies? How do population policies differ from social policies? Is the efficacy of these policies supported by empirical results? What is the theoretical and ethical background behind these policies? In this paper we summarize and discuss some of the best contributions presented at the 35th Quetelet seminar and stress their contribution to answering the above-mentioned questions.

The papers that are summarized below are now part of a special collection1 of papers published in Population Review.

Population policies: definitions and ethics

When trying to define population policies, one possible "preliminary" definition could be the following: population policies are those policies that affect demographic phenomena such as fertility, migration and ageing or that attempt to adapt societies to their consequences. This definition implies that policies can be active or adaptive. Active population policies can be direct or indirect. In the concluding paper of the special collection, Nico van Nimwegen speaks about how the focus of population policies has shifted over time and argues that population policies in the past that directly attempted to change the course of demographic phenomena, are now, in essence, population-related policies that have socio-economic aims. The new focus becomes particularly evident when referring to the implementation of population policies in the past. At the Chaire Quetelet seminar two contributions, now presented in the special collection, went in this direction: Arianna Caporali and Antonio Golini's paper "Births and Fertility in Interwar Italy: Trends, Images, Policies and Perception" and Frédéric Sandron's study "Réunion in the 1960s and 1970s: A Population Policy Against the Current?"

Caporali and Golini point out that the Italian interwar period population policy was part of Mussolini's nationalist objectives and that it took several forms, from financial incentives to penalties for bachelors and emigration. But Mussolini's attempts failed and fertility continued to decline. We could compare the Italian case with France, a well known historical example of pronatalist policies. In France, a persuasive approach was used to convince people that high natality improves the wealth of the nation. This contrasted with the authoritarian approach of the Italian fascist regime presented in Caporali and Golini's paper. In addition, while in Italy population policies were associated with misogyny and racial discrimination, in France the pronatalist argument was combined with a social one: by compensating the cost of children, the policymakers tried to prevent family poverty (Chesnais, 2006). Today, because of the relatively high fertility rate in France, which in 2006 reached two children per woman, France is recognized as an a country that has implemented successful pronatalist policies.

The second paper of the special collection, Frédéric Sandron's, "Réunion in the 1960s and 1970s: A Population Policy Against the Current?", also involves direct population policies. Réunion Island's population policy is a peculiar case. Réunion is part of France's territory, but, contrary to metropolitan France, an anti-natalist policy was implemented there. The author explains how debates and charismatic figures led to the conclusion that demographic control was necessary for the socioeconomic...


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