Raffaele Guetto professor at the Department of Statistics, Computer Science, Applications “G. Parenti” at the University of Florence, was invited as a speaker to our 8h D2 Seminar. He presented his work on “Italy’s lowest-low fertility in times of uncertainty”.

The theme of a generalized fertility decline in Europe during and after the Great Recession has been widely debated in the last decade as a matter of concern. Sociological and demographic studies have pinpointed the rise of economic uncertainty as a main cause of a lower fertility rate. The traditional method used to address to objective indicators of individuals, focusing on the actual and past labour market status. As Raffaele Guetto pointed out in his research, this aspect is obviously relevant, but is not the only driving factor, in his hypothesis uncertainty matters but we are not measuring it right. The role of uncertainty has to be conceptualized considering that people have their own perspective and expectations about the future, so it should be analysed the narrative, which is also influenced by the media. To outline such an approach he reviewed contemporary drivers of Italy’s lowest-low fertility, placing special emphasis on uncertainty fueled by labour market and the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, considering both objective and subjective sides of uncertainty, like individual perceptions and future outlooks. In doing so he highlighted the potential contribution of big data and media content analysis and Natural Language Processing.

Would you explain to someone who doesn’t know the methods of research in demography, how your study on the narrative of future can change how we look at indicators of uncertainty and fertility driving factors?

Traditional” empirical studies in Sociology and Demography operationalize economic uncertainty using objective indicators of individuals’ actual and past labor market situation, such as whether they are–or have been–unemployed and/or employed with a temporary contract. These variables are important and exert a negative influence on fertility. However, we argue, they are not the (only) driving factors behind contemporary Italian fertility decline. Young adults might postpone fertility because their narratives of the future are uncertain, i.e. it is increasingly difficult for them to predict their future and make long-term plans, regardless of their actual economic condition. In this state of affairs, applied research has to focus on forward-looking measures of uncertainty, measuring individuals’ perceptions of insecurity, expectations about their future situation, and imagined futures.

What are the perspectives of your study among the field of sentiment analysis?

Individuals’ perceptions of an uncertain future are strongly influenced by media-channeled narratives, as it has become particularly evident after the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. For this reason, it is particularly important to build indicators of the level of uncertainty channeled by press and (social) media. Among the activities of the EU-FER and Narratives research projects, both hosted at DiSIA, we are currently working on a newly created database containing journal articles concerning 29 European countries, collected from the early 2000s to 2020, for a total of almost 500 million articles. By applying both human annotation and different Sentiment Analysis algorithms, we will create indicators such as the number of positive and negative articles on the state of the economy, and analyze their associations with European fertility trends.

Raffaele Guetto is also a member of our center. More information about his research can be found on his personal page.

You can access the recording of this as well as to other seminars at this link. (Registration needed)