Dangerous Demographies
The Scientific Manufacture of Fear

Corner House Briefing 36

by Elizabeth L. Krause

first published 30 July 2006

In the 1990s, the birthrate in Italy was the lowest in the world. The government and the media became seriously worried. Proliferating alongside their worries today are grave concerns about ageing. The country is described as "old and without children", and predictions are made about "the end of the Italian race". Intertwined with talk about births, deaths and ageing are worries about immigration.


Yet since the middle of the twentieth century, it has been fears of "overpopulation" rather than underpopulation that have dominated popular, scientific and academic studies. Shouldn't Italy be held up as a model for other countries to follow? This briefing explores how a consensus been achieved around the "problem of low fertility".

Worries about low birthrates, ageing and immigration, and the catastrophic societal consequences that are predicted to flow from them, can be traced largely to demographic reports. These frequently stray from fact, figure or observation into the realm of opinion or comment about societies, women and cultural identity, but they assert their interpretations as unquestionable and scientific truths.

In particular, demographic alarms about the low birth rate assist in constructing and normalising Italians as homogenous, "white" and European. As such, they have significant effects on racist feelings and actions. They reinforce xenophobic notions in which racism is "coded as culture" and not based on some supposedly objective somatic or visual "black-white" differences. Demographic narratives reveal the simultaneous cultural and biological foundations of racist agendas. The alarms enable racism by stimulating a climate of fear and anxiety toward immigrants, and encourage depiction of immigrants as a threat.