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Status Anxiety and Demographic Contraction of Privileged Populations

S. Ryan Johansson
Population and Development Review
Vol. 13, No. 3 (Sep., 1987), pp. 439-470
Published by: Population Council
DOI: 10.2307/1973134
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1973134
Page Count: 32
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Status Anxiety and Demographic Contraction of Privileged Populations
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Abstract

Despite their great wealth, elite subpopulations in Western Europe experienced long-run demographic contraction. This article argues that their numerical decline was related to their determination to maintain high and undiminished standards of living for themselves and their heirs. Since the proper endowment of more than a small number of elite children threatened the material basis of family status, reproductively active married couples tried to restrict effective replacement (on average) to two married children. Since a large fraction of elite couples (15 to 30 percent) were childless, aggregate demographic decline (in a closed population) was inevitable. Currently, the world's wealthiest countries are also faced with impending demographic contraction. Parallels are drawn between the status-protecting strategies of traditional elites and those of ordinary couples in modern developed populations, whose high-cost, high-risk children have more in common with those raised by elite families than with children in traditional agrarian economies whose labor and insurance value secured, rather than threatened, their parents' status.

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