Pauline Rossi, economist: “Demography is a difficult liner to manage”

Pauline Rossi is one of three young economists, excluding the two winners, who were selected by the jury bringing together representatives of the Circle of Economists and the World for their work relating to applied economics and promoting public debate.

Why did you invest in a field of research – the family and fertility – in which economists pay little attention?

I like the idea that this subject speaks to everyone. Everyone, even if they are not scientists, has an opinion on having children, how many, when, with whom. The aggregation of these millions of individual decisions has repercussions on countries. There has always been a tension between these intimate choices and the behaviors that the public authorities would like to see adopted. Governments have tried to control this fertility. Without much success, and when this control has been imposed in a brutal manner, the consequences have often been unexpected and disastrous. Demography is a difficult liner to steer. Each maneuver is felt over thirty or fifty years.

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What led you to take a particular interest in Africa?

Africa is the last continent to have not yet completed its demographic transition and the reasons for this delay continue to question demographers. In the early 2000s, experts thought that Africa was going to follow an identical trajectory to that of Asia with a very rapid decline in fertility, which would coincide with a period of strong economic growth. But the decline in the number of children has not occurred in Africa, and United Nations projections now anticipate a near quadrupling of its population by 2100. In fact, the theme of the demographic dividend is less highlighted.

The demographic question is little taken into account in development models, how do you explain it?

The politically sensitive nature of the subject and the accusations of interference it triggers are certainly the main causes. In 2017, Emmanuel Macron, after declaring that it would not be possible to stabilize Africa as long as women had seven or eight children, had to go back on his remarks which had triggered an outcry. What legitimacy do Westerners have to make recommendations on the optimal size of the population? It is therefore deemed preferable to address the issue through access to contraception and the right of women to control their fertility. Reproductive health programs widely funded in the poorest countries through international cooperation are today the main tool for controlling fertility.

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