Population bomb more complicated than it appears.

I was recently a participant in a discussion about population growth in Sunfell‘s LJ.  Just today, I ran into this article from the Independent that reports that a number of the things being said in that thread turn out to be oversimplified or, even, incorrect.  An excerpt:

The conventional wisdom – academics call it the demographic transition – is that when people are poor they have lots of children. When half your kids die before they reach adulthood you need to have lots to ensure there is someone to look after you in old age. If it takes one person all day to plough or weed the fields, or fetch the firewood, or find grazing for the goats, or carry the water and pound the grain, then you need a big family. And if there is no contraception available you don’t have much choice anyway.

But when you get richer family sizes start dropping. The health of your children improves. You have savings for your old age. Girls go to school, get jobs outside the home, marry and have babies much later. Contraception becomes available. You move to the city where you don’t need so many children to do the household chores. Make people prosperous and the population falls.

“That’s the biggest lie that’s ever been perpetrated,” says Professor Cleland, who is something of a hawk on population control. “People are very bad at calculating survival probabilities. Twenty years ago fertility started to decline in Nepal and Bangladesh when they were still poor. Korea wasn’t rich when fertility declined. By contrast the Gulf oil states continued with high birthrates long after they got huge wealth.” It’s even true in Western Europe, adds Professor Falkingham, where the upper class has more children than the middle class.

It also talks about how birthrates in Europe are growing in northern secular countries, but are declining in southern Catholic countries, rather counterintuitively.  It’s an interesting addition to the conversation.

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