Fertile Debates: A Comparative Account of Low Fertility in the British and Greek National Press

  • Katerina Georgiadis


This article compares how the British and Greek national press debated the phenomenon of low fertility between 2001 and 2009. Specifically, it presents an overview of each set of newspapers’ perspectives on the issue, and the most prevalent causes, consequences and solutions with which they associated it. Differences between the print media’s representations are not only attributed to the distinct ‘policy climate’ and ‘demographic experience’ of each country but also to culturally specific ideologies concerning the nation, gender, motherhood and personhood. Newspapers do not simply mirror reality but also help to construct it by legitimising dominant discourses about how persons, especially women, ought to manage their fertility. Studying the media is, therefore, a means of understanding the broader contexts in which individuals’ reproductive lives are shaped and experienced.


Fertility Greece United Kingdom Media Newspaper Anthropology 

Des débats féconds: analyse comparative de la prise en compte des faibles fécondités dans les presses nationales britannique et grecque


Cet article compare les modalités selon lesquelles les presses nationales britannique et grecque ont débattu du phénomène de faible fécondité au cours de la période 2001–2009. Plus précisément, il donne une vue d’ensemble des opinions d’une série de journaux sur les causes, les conséquences et les solutions les plus fréquemment décrites associées à ce phénomène. Les différences de représentations dans les presses écrites ne sont pas seulement attribuées au « climat politique » et à « l’expérience démographique » propres à chaque pays mais aussi aux idéologies spécifiques et culturellement construites relatives à la nation, au genre, à la maternité et à l’individu. Les journaux ne reflètent pas seulement la réalité, ils aident également à la construire en légitimant les discours dominants relatifs à la manière dont les individus, et spécialement les femmes, devraient gérer leurs vies reproductives. Analyser le contenu des medias est un outil permettant de comprendre les contextes plus vastes dans lesquels les vies reproductives des individus sont façonnées et vécues.


Fécondité Grèce Royaume Uni Medias Journaux Anthropologie 



I would like to acknowledge the support of the Economic and Social Research Council for providing me with the funding to carry out the research on which this article is based. I want to thank Dr. Ernestina Coast for her guidance, as well as Dr. Sara Randall and Professor Nanneke Redclift for theirs, on earlier versions of this article. I am also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback, as well as to Professor Charles Hirschman and Professor Mary C. Brinton for their input during the presentation of a synopsis of this article at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America in Dallas, Texas. Finally, thanks to Nick Paleocrassas for his role in editing the final draft.


  1. Barber, S. J., & Axinn, G. W. (2004). New ideas and fertility limitation: The role of mass media. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(December), 1180–1200.Google Scholar
  2. Berrington, A. (2004). Perpetual postponers? Women’s, men’s and couples’ fertility intentions and subsequent fertility behaviour. Population Trends, 117, 9–19.Google Scholar
  3. Bird, E. (2010). Anthropological engagement with news media. Anthropology News, 51(4), 5–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bradshaw, J., & Finch, N. (2002). A comparison of benefits in 22 countries. Research report no. 174. United Kingdom: Department of Work and Pensions. Google Scholar
  5. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using qualitative thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, J. A., & Ferree M. M. (2005). Close your eyes and think of England: Pronatalism in the British print media. Gender and Society, 19(5), 5–24.Google Scholar
  7. Browner, C. H. (2000). Situating women’s reproductive activities. American Anthropologist, 102(4), 773–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buxton, J., Clarke, L., Grundy, E., & Marshall, E. C. (2005). The long shadow of childhood: Associations between parental social class and own social class, educational attainment and timing of first births; results from the ONS longitudinal study. Population Trends 121(Autumn), 17–26.Google Scholar
  9. Council of Europe. (2010). The council of Europe family policy database.
  10. Dixon, M., & Margo, J. (2006). Population Politics. London: IPPR.Google Scholar
  11. Eurostat. (2010). Statistics database. European Commission.
  12. Fowler, R. (1991). Language in the news: Discourse and ideology in the press. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Frejka, T., Kingkade, W. W., Calot, G., Sardon, J. P., & Confesson, A. (2001). Cohort childlessness and parity in low fertility countries. In European population conference 2001, Helsinki, Finland 7–9 June 2001.Google Scholar
  14. Gauthier, A. H. (2007). The impact of family policies on fertility in industrialized countries: A review of the literature. Population Research and Policy Review, 26, 323–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gauthier, A. H., & Philipov, D. (2008). Can policies enhance fertility? Vienna yearbook of population research (special issue). 1–177.Google Scholar
  16. Georges, E. (1996). Abortion policy and practice in Greece. Social Science and Medicine, 42(4), 509–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Georgiadis, K. (2006). Understanding low fertility in Athens and London: A comparative ethnographic study. PhD Thesis. University of London, London.Google Scholar
  18. Ginsburg, F., & Rapp, R. (1991). The politics of reproduction. Annual Review of Anthropology, 20, 311–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Greenhalgh, S. (1995). Situating fertility: Anthropology and demographic Inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hadfield, L., Rudoe, N., & Sanderson-Mann, J. (2007). Motherhood, choice and the British media: A time to reflect. Gender and Education, 19(2), 255–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Haines, R. M. (1989). Social class differentials during fertility decline: England and Wales revisited. Population Studies, 43(2), 305–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Halkias, A. (2004). The empty cradle of democracy: Sex, abortion, and nationalism in modern Greece. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Harte, J. (2007). Human population as a dynamic factor in environmental degradation. Population and Environment, 28, 223–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Houseknecht, K. S. (1987). Voluntary childlessness. In M. B. Sussman & S. Steinmetz (Eds.), Handbook of marriage, the family (pp. 369–395). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  25. Ioannidi-Kapolou, E. (2004). Use of contraception and abortion in Greece: A review. Reproductive Health Matters, 12(24 Supplement), 174–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson-Hanks, J. (2006). On the politics and practice of Muslim fertility. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 20(1), 12–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johnson-Hanks, J. (2005). When the future decides: Uncertainty and intentional action in contemporary Cameroon. Current Anthropology, 46(2), 363–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnston, D., & Swanson, D. H. (2003). Invisible mothers: A content analysis of motherhood ideologies and myths in magazines. Sex Roles, 49(1/2), 21–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kannaneh, A. R. (2002). Birthing the nation: Strategies of Palestinian women in Israel. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  30. Kiernan, K. (1999). Childbearing outside marriage in Western Europe. Population Trends, 98, 1320.Google Scholar
  31. King, L. (2002). Demographic trends, pronatalism, and nationalist ideologies in the late twentieth century. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25(3), 367–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kligman, G. (1998). The politics of duplicity: Controlling reproduction in Ceausescu’s Romania. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Kohler, H.-P., Billari, F. C., & Ortega, J. A. (2002). The emergence of lowest-low fertility in Europe during the 1990s. Population and Development Review, 28(4), 641–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kotzamanis, B., & Sofianopoulou, K. (2008). The demography of EU member states: Trends and predictions [In Greek]. Demo News, 2(November–December), 1–6.Google Scholar
  35. Krause, E. (2009). ‘They just happened’: The curious case of the unplanned baby and the ‘end’ of rationality. In Annual meeting of the American anthropological association, Philadelphia, 2–6 December.Google Scholar
  36. Krause, E., & Marchesi, M. (2007). Fertility politics as “social viagra”: Reproducing boundaries, social cohesion, and modernity in Italy. American Anthropologist, 109(2), 350–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McIntosh, J., & Blalock, S. J. (2005). Effects of media coverage of Women’s Health Initiative study on attitudes and behavior of women receiving hormone replacement therapy. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 62(1), 69–74.Google Scholar
  38. Misiti, M. (2000). Public opinion and the role of the media. Sevilla, Spain: European Observatory on Family Matters Seminar on Low fertility, families and public policies.Google Scholar
  39. Murtaugh, P. A., & Schlax, M. G. (2009). Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals. Global Environmental Change, 19, 14–20.Google Scholar
  40. OECD. (2008). Family database. SF8: Marriage and divorce rates. OECD—Social Policy Division—Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.Google Scholar
  41. OECD. (2010). Family policy database.
  42. Papadopoulos, T. (1998). Greek family policy from a comparative perspective. In E. Drew, R. Emerek, & E. Mahon (Eds.), Reconciling family and working life. London: RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  43. Papadopoulos, T. (2002). Family Policy In Greece: National Informant’s Questionnaire. Social Policy Research Unit. York: University of York.Google Scholar
  44. Paxson, H. (2002). Rationalising sex: Family planning and the making of modern lovers in urban Greece. American Ethnologist, 29(2), 307–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Paxson, H. (2004). Making modern mothers: Ethics and family planning in urban Greece. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  46. Pearce, D., Giambattista, C., & Aarno, L. (1999). Changes in fertility and family size in Europe. Population Trends, 95, 3340.Google Scholar
  47. Petchesky, P. R. (1984). Abortion and woman’s choice: The state, sexuality, and reproductive freedom. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Rendall, S. M., & Smallwood, S. (2003). Higher qualifications, first-birth timing and further childbearing in England and Wales. Population Trends, 111, 18–26.Google Scholar
  49. Sardon, J. (2006). Recent demographic trends in the developed countries. Population (English edition), 61(3), 197–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sass, E. (2004). Reconstructing the image of the voluntarily childfree: An ethnographic exploration of media representation and the childless by choice. MA Thesis, School of Mass Communications, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida.Google Scholar
  51. Sigle-Rushton, W. (2008). England and Wales: Stable fertility and pronounced social status differences. Demographic Research, 19, 455–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smallwood, S. (2002). New estimates of trends in births by birth order in England and Wales. Population Trends, 108, 32–48.Google Scholar
  53. Stark, L., & Kohler, H.-P. (2002). The debate over low fertility in the popular press: A cross-national comparison, 1998–1999. Population Research and Policy Review, 21, 535–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stark, L., & Kohler, H.-P. (2004). The popular debate about low fertility: An analysis of the German press, 1993–2001. European Journal of Population, 20, 293–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Summerfield, C., & Babb, P. (2004). Social Trends 34. London: TSO.Google Scholar
  56. Teitelbaum, S. M. (1987). The fear of population decline. Population Today, 15(3), 6–8.Google Scholar
  57. Teitelbaum, S. M. (2004). The media marketplace for garbled demography. Population and Development Review, 30(2), 317–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tountas, Y., Dimitrakaki, C., Antoniou, A., Boulamatsis, D., & Creatsas, G. (2004). Attitudes and behavior towards contraception among Greek women during reproductive age: A country-wide survey. European Journal of Obsetrics and Gynecology, 116, 190–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. UN. (2007). World Population Policies. New York: United Nations.Google Scholar
  60. Wilmoth, J. R., & Ball, P. (1992). The population debate in American popular magazines, 1946–90. Population and Development Review, 18(4), 631–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Willetts, D. (2003). Old Europe? Demographic Change and Pension Reform. London: Centre for European Reform.Google Scholar
  62. Yuval-Davis, N. (1996). Women and the biological reproduction of the nation. Women’s Studies International Forum, 19(1/2), 17–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Newspaper Articles

  1. Allen, P. (2005, Sept 23). Mothers’ £6,500 bonus for having a third baby. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  2. Anon. (2006, May 28). The weight of family burdens too heavy for the young to lift. Kathimerini.Google Scholar
  3. Anon (2007, Nov 27). Opinions. Eleftherotypia.Google Scholar
  4. Anon. (2009, Aug 31). Population growth poses green challenge. The Times. Google Scholar
  5. Ashley, J. (2003, May 01). Why French women are better off: Feminists shouldn’t be riled by financial incentives for mothers. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  6. Balakrishnan, A. (2007, June 09). Does Britain need more babies? The Guardian.Google Scholar
  7. Boseley, S. (2006, May 19). Birth rate increase may reflect Blair policies, says expert. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  8. Bowditch, G. (2007, May 13). We need babies, not greens. The Sunday Times.Google Scholar
  9. Brockes, E. (2006, July 22). The power of one: Spoilt, self-centred and isolated—the product of a selfish society. The one-child family is on the rise, but still these stereotypes persist. Why? Emma Brockes investigates—and reflects on her own experiences as an only child. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  10. Burden, H. (2004, May 24). Lie back and think of the bank balance: The latest wheeze to boost the birthrate by giving cash for babies is very bad news. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  11. Carvel, J. (2001, March 23). Britain ages as pregnancies fall: Retirement at 72 needed to keep workforce balance. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  12. Carvel, J. (2002, May 17). Modern women choosing to have smaller families. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  13. Clark, R. (2004, Nov 14). The middle classes are letting us down: They must breed more. The Sunday Telegraph.Google Scholar
  14. Cooper, T. (2006, March 30). A lower birth rate means less pollution; Global Warming debate. The Independent.Google Scholar
  15. Craig, A. (2005, Sept 25). Pay us to be mothers. Sunday Times.Google Scholar
  16. Craig, O. (2007, Dec 16). ‘We just don’t want to have a family’: Britain’s population is booming as migrant women give birth here—but increasingly British couples are choosing to remain childless. The Sunday Telegraph.Google Scholar
  17. de Waal, A. (2005, June 26). Prosperity is a family affair: The government is happy to promote the welfare of children but is failing to support their parents. The Observer.Google Scholar
  18. Doughty, S. (2002, June 28). The childless choice: One in five women of 40 has not had a baby. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  19. Doughty, S. (2006, Feb 24). More women delay first baby until their 40s. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  20. Doward, J. (2003, Dec 14). Wanted: A baby boom. With nearly one woman in four not having any children, the population decline of Britain will start falling after 2040—with disastrous consequences. The Observer.Google Scholar
  21. Drettakis, M. (2006, March 05). Families with three children, can become polyteknes at a small cost [In Greek]. Kathimerini.Google Scholar
  22. Drettakis, M. (2006, Nov 26). Demographic nightmare [In Greek]. Eleftherotypia.Google Scholar
  23. Frean, A. (2001, May 11). Birthrate slumps to the lowest on record. The Times.Google Scholar
  24. Frean, A. (2002, May 17). Birthrate at record low as women opt for jobs. The Times.Google Scholar
  25. Frean, A. (2003, June 27). Women pining for babies they leave too late. The Times.Google Scholar
  26. Georgakis, I. (2004, Jan 22). Underfertility: A ‘torpedo’ for Insurance [in Greek]. Ta Nea.Google Scholar
  27. Goodchild, S., & Elliott, F. (2006, Feb 19). The fertility trap—the £500,000 question: Should you have a baby while young, or gamble with your body clock—and risk losing? A new study shows that the choice faced by women is increasingly stark: A family or a career? The Independent on Sunday.Google Scholar
  28. Hale, B. (2002, July 08). The under-30s blues: They can’t buy a home and will be worse off than their parents. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  29. Hinsliff, G. (2005, June 12). Falling birth rate threatens closure of primary schools: ‘Bridget Jones’ attitudes lead to 50,000 drop in potential pupils. The Observer.Google Scholar
  30. Hinsliff, G. (2006, Feb 19). Overwork triggers £11 billion baby crisis: Career pressure limits women’s choices. ‘Baby gap’ rises to 90,000 births a year. The Observer.Google Scholar
  31. Johnston, P. (2007, Aug 23). One in four babies is born to a foreign parent. The Daily Telegraph.Google Scholar
  32. Jowitt, J. (2007, Nov 11). Three’s. The Observer.Google Scholar
  33. Karaiskaki, T. (2006, March 17). And 1, and 2, and 3, and 4 children… [In Greek]. Kathimerini.Google Scholar
  34. Karanatsi, E. (2008, May 13). A country full of … wrinkles [In Greek]. Kathimerini.Google Scholar
  35. Kastrioti, D. (2002, March 20). Battles over distribution [In Greek]). Kathimerini.Google Scholar
  36. Kay, W. (2003, Sept 27). Will families suffer from a demographic time-bomb? It will not be long before the burden of the number of over-60s falls. The Independent.Google Scholar
  37. Koutsopoulos, Κ. (2007, Feb 17). The gradual decline of the population has begun [In Greek]. Eleftherotypia.Google Scholar
  38. Kritikos, P. (2005, July 05). The demographic [issue] beyond half-measures and fake measures [In Greek]. Eleftherotypia.Google Scholar
  39. Lakasa, Α. (2001, June 21). Pupils ‘the victims’ of the system [In Greek]. Kathimerini.Google Scholar
  40. Lawson, D. (2007). A retort to the population control freaks. The Independent 06/11/2007.Google Scholar
  41. Lawson, D. (2009, March 29). Enough, population doom merchants. The Sunday Times.Google Scholar
  42. Lazaridis, E. I. (2005, Jan 08). Solutions to the very important demographic problem [In Greek]. Kathimerini.Google Scholar
  43. Leapman, B. (2007, April 22). Third of graduate women will be childless. The SundayTelegraph.Google Scholar
  44. Letts, Q. (2003, Feb 01). Best of luck, my little one. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  45. Lianos, T. P. (2003, Jan 26). The privileges of the polyteknoi [In Greek]. To Vima.Google Scholar
  46. McDonagh, M. (2007a, July 13). The cry should go up in Europe: More babies, please. The Times.Google Scholar
  47. McDonagh, M. (2007b, July 29). Pricing children out of existence. The Sunday Times.Google Scholar
  48. McKie, R. (2004a, Jan 25). Special Report: The Age Revolution: Living with Britain’s population timebomb. The Observer.Google Scholar
  49. McKie, R. (2004b, Sept 26). Recognise this? We need more of them: From China to Italy to India—the world is facing a baby drought. What will falling numbers mean for the globe? The Observer.Google Scholar
  50. Moutousi, N. V. G., Vardelis, S., & Kaitanidi, M. (2005, Dec 7). Benefits ... on sale and in installments [In Greek]. Ta Nea.Google Scholar
  51. Neta, V. (2001, April 24). Within the century Greece will disappear!… [In Greek]. Eleftherotypia.Google Scholar
  52. Papaioannou, G. (2002, Aug 04). Holes in our piggy banks [In Greek]. To Vima.Google Scholar
  53. Papathemelis, S. (2007, Feb 04). A demographic policy is a question of initiatives [In Greek]. To Vima.Google Scholar
  54. Pearson, A. (2006, Feb 22). Oh baby, this IS a crisis. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  55. Phillips, M. (2004, Sept 22). Breed for the good of the state. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  56. Romaiou, G. (2003, Oct 26). Greeks… the foreigners. To Vima.Google Scholar
  57. Searjeant, G. (2003, Feb 28). People are good for us—in moderation. The Times.Google Scholar
  58. Shriver, L. (2005, Sept 17). No kids please, we’re selfish: The population is shrinking, but why should I care, says Lionel Shriver. My life is far too interesting to spoil it with children. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  59. Sokou, Κ. (2007, March 06). Underfertility threatens Greece [In Greek]. To Vima.Google Scholar
  60. Stallman, R. (2005, July 04). Letter: Why the child-free are unhappy. The Independent.Google Scholar
  61. Stamboglis, D. (2008, Aug 27). The Greeks are getting older (and soon, fewer) [In Greek]. To Vima.Google Scholar
  62. Travis, A. (2009, Oct 21). UK population growth to 70 million challenged. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  63. Tsoulea, R. (2004, March 13). Births are not worth it [In Greek]. Ta Nea.Google Scholar
  64. Vidal, J. (2007, July 11). UK needs a two-child limit, says population report. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  65. Weathers, H. (2001, Jan 15). Singles: Why women are leaving it too late to find a man. Daily Mail.Google Scholar
  66. Williams, Z. (2006, Feb 21). Men have babies too. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  67. Williams, Z. (2009, April 15). To breed or not to breed: Attenborough is probably right about population growth. But, as so often, we’ll deal with it later. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  68. Womack, S. (2003, Dec 12). Have three babies to sustain the population. The Daily Telegraph.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social PolicyLondon School of EconomicsLondonUK

Personalised recommendations