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The Fertility Paradox: Gender Roles, Fertility and Cultural Evolution

Wade C. Mackey and Ronald S. Immerman


Published: 2005/03/01


A sea-change in gender-roles occurred in Europe and North America during the latter half of the twentieth century. This resulted from increased options for women to direct their own life histories, including greater educational and employment opportunities and the ability to exercise reproductive choice. This new philosophy of gender egalitarianism is in direct contrast to the older tradition of gender complementarity that still survives in many other cultures despite technological modernization. The greater freedom of women in gender egalitarian societies has nevertheless created a paradox: gender egalitarian societies are likely to be replaced by gender complimentary societies. This is because the increased autonomy and freedom of women is accompanied by a declining birthrate, and societies that practice gender equality must therefore be inevitably replaced by the surplus population from societies that restrict the activities of women to childbearing, and maintain a competitively higher birthrate. The authors suggest that no current community has managed to solve this paradox.