Theory and explanation in demography : the case of low fertility in Europe
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In the 50th anniversary edition of Population Studies, John Hobcraft commented that demographers spend too little time trying to explain the phenomena they measure and describe. A quarter of a century on, this paper looks at the state of theory and explanation in contemporary demography. I ask how demographers have approached the task of explanation since Hobcraft’s comment, grounding the discussion in the mainstream literature on low fertility in Europe. Using selected examples, I critically review macro- and micro-level approaches to explanation, highlighting some of the philosophical problems that each encounters. I argue that different conceptions of what demography is, and the explanatory language fertility researchers use, lead to differences in explanatory strategies that are rarely explicitly recognized. I also consider how critical theories challenge demographers to think in new ways. Despite the increasing attention paid to theory and explanation, I conclude that more engagement with the philosophy of social sciences is needed before fertility researchers can legitimately claim their studies do as much to explain and understand as to quantify and describe.
Graham , E 2021 , ' Theory and explanation in demography : the case of low fertility in Europe ' , Population Studies-A Journal of Demography , vol. 75 , no. Supplement 1 , pp. 133-155 . https://doi.org/10.1080/00324728.2021.1971742
Population Studies-A Journal of Demography
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