Sauvy, Alfred

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Alfred Sauvy, French demographer, statistician, economist, and man of letters, was founding director of Institut national d'études démographiques and founding editor of the journal Population. After graduating from the Ecole polytechnique, Sauvy joined Statistique Générale de France, the country's central statistical office, predecessor of today's INSEE (Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques). His work there involved him in demographic studies, such as an examination of the effect of immigration on France's population, and the preparation, in 1928, of the first modern-type population projections in France, distinguishing age and sex. These projections, repeated in the 1930s, shed light on the longer-term consequences of maintaining below-replacement levels of fertility. (His projections for France, published in 1932, predicted a 1975 population between 31 and 39 million. The actual population, reflecting a sharp turnaround in French fertility, falling mortality, and substantial immigration, turned out to be 53 million.) Sauvy, and his intellectual mentor, Adolphe Landry (1874–1956, Minister of Social Affairs and author of La révolution démographique, [1934]) were concerned about the effects of demographic trends on France's national strength and specifically with the fiscal problems inherent in the observed and anticipated shifting ratio between the old and the young. Both saw the solution to this in the rejuvenation of the population through higher birth rates. Sauvy, with Landry, was active in the late 1930s in the preparation of policy reforms aimed at stimulating fertility. He was also pro-immigration, favoring a selective policy, followed by assimilation. His first book, Richesse et Population, which appeared during World War II, was a recapitulation of his analysis of economic-demographic interactions in France.

After the war, Sauvy became an influential and highly visible figure in France–a demographer who was also an intellectual with a strong and distinctive voice in contemporary debates on issues of social and economic policy. More than any other demographer in France, or elsewhere, Sauvy reached a broad readership through his many books (more than 40 in all, over four decades) on population and economics, written in an appealing style and accessible to the intelligent reader. That influence was extended by his numerous articles in newspapers and periodicals, such as Le Monde and L'Observateur. He wrote on many themes but his principal and recurrent interests were the need for strengthening pro-family policies aimed at sustaining the postwar resurgence of birth rates, encouraging immigration in ways that serve well-conceived domestic interests, and fighting the spirit of Malthusianism (the great disease, manifest in psychological dispositions as much as demographic behavior, that he saw as the mortal enemy of France's greatness) by pursuing a pro-growth economic and social agenda. Sauvy's positions on these matters did not fit well, if at all, into the conventional political categories of the French left and right. Although a socialist at heart, his economic prescriptions, even though permeated with a spirit of dirigisme, were typically pro-market and pro-competition, and his demographic policies were easily classified as conservative or, on matters of birth control, even reactionary.

Sauvy's platform for his role as an advocate for specific policies was his directorship of the Institut national d'études démographiques (INED), founded in 1945, a post he held for 17 years; INED's scientific journal Population, which he launched in 1946 and which he edited until 1974; and Sauvy's own professional work, recognized in 1959 with his appointment as professor at the Collège de France. INED and Population were his lasting creations, with few, if any, peers among population research organizations and scientific population journals. Among his books two stand out as his most important contributions: the two-volume Théorie générale de la population (1952–1954 and, in a revised edition, 1963–1966) and the four volume Histoire économique de la France entre les deux guerres (1965–1975). Théorie générale de la population was a bold synthesis of contemporary knowledge on population and its relationships with socioeconomic phenomena, discussing such issues as population optimums, technological progress and employment, social classes and social structure, ideas on overpopulation, and international migration. In addressing these and many other issues, Sauvy largely avoided use of the tool kit of modern social science. He did not hold those research instruments in very high esteem; his primary interests were in lucidity, directness, and social relevance. An English translation of Théorie Générale de la population appeared in 1969. Histoire économique de la France entre les deux guerres was a magisterial treatment of the subject, with strong emphasis on the role of demographic factors, that drew on Sauvy's personal observations about and active involvement in the events of the interwar period.

Sauvy's professional interests were firmly focused on France and its population problems–exclusively so in the first two decades of his professional career and largely so during the remainder of it. He played an international role, however, as France's representative on the United Nations Population Commission (from its inception in 1947 to 1974) and by serving as president of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) (1961–1963). The great acceleration of world population growth in the postwar decades and the consequent efforts toward development of international population policies did, from time to time, draw his attention, and some of his writings addressed global issues. As a case in point, he is the father of the term, now obsolete but once popular, "third world," that first appeared in his 1952 article in L'Observateur entitled "Three Worlds, One Planet." The term he actually used, tiers monde, reminiscent of associations with French revolutionary history, is, however, richer in meaning than the English equivalent. However, Sauvy was not a globalist. In a 1949 article, "The 'False Problem' of World Population" (an English translation appeared in 1990), he argued that the concept of "world population" was artificial, hence largely meaningless, and that using it could only lead to confused thinking and erroneous policy conclusions. He saw the international system as one built on the jealously guarded principle of national sovereignty. "Terrestrial compartmentalizations," he observed, "are sufficiently well established to render any global calculus that ignores them quite pointless" (Sauvy 1990, p. 760). Problems of population, he contended, differed from country to country and required different, and preferably home-made, medicines.

Sauvy was utterly devoid of pretense–perhaps a reflection of his Catalan origin. He often rode his bicycle to his Paris office, wearing his inevitable beret. He was a devotee of rugby, and he played until he was well into his 50s. He assembled a unique collection of rare books, mostly from eighteenth-century French economic and demographic literature, and was the force behind INED's annotated re-editions of some of those works. He died on the eve of his 92nd birthday.

See also: Demography, History of; Landry, Adolphe; Optimum Population; Population Thought, Contemporary.


selected works by alfred sauvy.

Sauvy, Alfred. 1943. Richesse et population. Paris: Payot.

——. 1945. Bien-être et population. Paris: Editions sociales françaises.

——. 1949. "Le 'faux problème' de la population mondiale." Population 4(3): 447–462. Transl. "The 'False Problem' of World Population." Population and Development Review 16(4), 1990:759–774.

——. 1952–1954. Théorie générale de la population, Vol. I: Economie et croissance, Vol. II: La vie des populations. Paris: Presses universitaires de France. Transl.: General Theory of Population, trans. by Christophe Campos. New York: Basic Books, 1969.

——. 1953. L'Europe et sa population. Paris: Les éditions internationales.

——. 1958. De Malthus à Mao Tse-Toung: le problème de la population dans le monde. Paris: Denoël. Transl.: Fertility and Survival: Population Problems from Malthus to Mao Tse-Tung. New York: Criterion Books, 1961.

——. 1959. La montée des jeunes. Paris: Calmann-Lévy.

——. 1963. Malthus et les deux Marx: le problème de la faim et de la guerre dans le monde. Paris: Denoël.

——. 1965–1975. Histoire économique de la France entre les deux guerres, 4 Vols. Paris: Arthème Fa-yard.

——. 1973. Croissance zéro? Paris: Calmann-Lévy. Transl. Zero Growth? New York: Praeger, 1975.

——. 1973. La Population: sa mesure, ses mouvements, ses lois. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

——. 1976. Eléments de démographie. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

——. 1980. La Machine et le chômage: le progrès technique et l'emploi. Paris: Dunod.

——. 1987. L' Europe submergée. Sud-Nord dans trente ans. Paris: Dunod.

——. 2001. La vieillesse des nations. Anthology: selected and annotated texts by Jean-Claude Chesnais. Paris, Gallimard.

selected works about alfred sauvy.

Institut National d'Etudes Démographiques. 1992. "Hommage à Alfred Sauvy." Population Special Issue (November–December) 47(6).

Keyfitz, Nathan. 1990. "Alfred Sauvy." Population and Development Review 16(4): 727–733.

Lévy, Michel. 1990. Alfred Sauvy compagnon du siècle. Paris: La manufacture.

Tabah, Léon. 1991. "Alfred Sauvy: Statistician, Economist, Demographer and Iconoclast (1898–1990)." Population Studies 45(2): 353–357.

Jean-Claude Chesnais