Reproduction at the margins: migration and legitimacy in the new Europe
Demographic Research, S3:4, 87–116 (2004)
One of the most compelling demographic questions in contemporary Europe has been whether immigrant populations will bring their youthful age pyramids to help support Europe’s subfertile, aging populations. But how do immigrants envision their own reproductive life trajectories across vast, ambiguous political boundaries whose seismic shifts can threaten their security? This paper reviews some recent literature from demography, anthropology, and the media as well as several case studies to suggest that for immigrant families at the political margins of Europe, especially those from developing countries, the most pressing fertility question is not numbers of children. It is instead the legitimacy that children may provide in their families’ efforts to gain work, social security, and rights to settle. This implies that the reproductive practices adopted by immigrants in Europe may derive less from traditions in their home countries than from efforts to adapt to new rules of “belonging” in Europe. Indeed, what seem very striking in the light of conspicuously low and increasingly non-marital fertility in mainstream Western Europe are the increasing demands placed on immigrants to pursue legitimacy in their reproductive lives. The paper concludes that levels of fertility among immigrants are unlikely to assimilate to the national norms until people’s status becomes more secure. Finally, just as we can no longer rest on conventional notions of reproductive practices in the developing world, it is increasingly impossible to draw general conclusions about fertility in Europe without keeping the developing world in view.
Keywords: Europe, migration, reproduction