EPC 2016 Opening Ceremony
Europe’s largest population conference (the European Population Conference), which is taking place in Germany for the first time, opened on Wednesday evening at the University of Mainz with a two-hour opening event. After welcoming addresses had been held by the President of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Prof. Dr. Georg Krausch, and by the President of the European Association for Population Studies (EAPS), Prof. Dr. Francesco Billari, Dr. Günter Krings (Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior) and the Director of the BiB, Prof. Dr. Norbert F. Schneider, gave speeches in which they set the stage for the discussions which are to take place on the next three days’ topics. The conference, which is being organised by the BiB, this year stands under the banner of “Demographic Change and Policy Implications”, and ends on 3 September 2016. A total of more than 1,000 people are expected to attend, and will be discussing the current state of demographic and family sociological research in over 600 lectures and 300 poster sessions.
Shaping Demographic Change Together
Dr. Krings pointed out in his speech the extent to which attitudes towards demographic change have changed in the past 15 years. Whilst the mood was still apocalyptic more than one decade ago, demographic development is regarded today as constituting an opportunity. He stressed the need to ensure that we should continue to make good use of this tailwind. This particularly applies to the current discussion on immigration, which can only be overcome by ensuring that all in society hold together and that the necessary steps are taken towards integration. Ideas and activities are called for from the outset, not only at statutory, but above all also at practical level within society.
Ultimately, however, the major influx of largely younger immigrants is not a demographical cure-all against the shrinking and ageing which are going on in society. He stated that, at best, it can temporarily ease the strain in a few areas. Research and policy advice which the BiB has been providing for years play a major role when it comes to the measures and organisational approaches. It is also this on which policy makers will have to rely in future. He summed up by saying that the many different scenarios of change can ultimately only be resolved through joint action.
Family Change in Europe: Convergence or Divergence?
Prof. Dr. Norbert F. Schneider then went on to provide an initial impression of today’s research issues in family studies. In his speech, he addressed the question of what change the family has undergone in Europe in the past 30 years, and whether the direction which change is taking has been largely uniform in all the countries, or whether it has taken different courses. He took as his starting point an observation of the family as a social and cultural construct which is characterised by both change and diversity. He stressed that this change has progressed with a uniform, stable trend in the past three decades in most European countries. Differences however emerge when it comes to the pace of change, which has been more rapid in some countries than in others. Taking indicators for measuring change as an example (such as the share of non-marital couples, the share of women in full-time gainful employment or non-marital births), Prof. Schneider made it clear that such indicators revealed the divergent tendencies in the Western European countries. This also applies to a comparison with the connection between the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and the level of education: Portugal, for instance, only has a narrow gap when it comes to the connection between level of education and TFR, whilst there is a negative correlation in Germany: As the level of education rises, the TFR falls. These many, disparate empirical characteristics cannot be unambiguously interpreted as either converging or diverging phenomena. Prof. Schneider in fact considers that the juxtaposition of convergence and divergence proves the existence of hybrid patterns which arise as a result of the clashing of modernisation processes with different cultural, structural and economic conditions, and hence become entrenched.
The sociologist’s analysis was that change in the family ultimately leads to it shifting from a social institution to a living arrangement which is individual in its shape. The consequence which this has for policy makers is that they should accept it and take the change into account. This includes enhancing quality of life by improving opportunity structures and enabling choice, also with regard to the family, which is in a state of constant change.