I am constantly startled by references to “population growth” as a cause of a number of development challenges. Whether it’s urbanization, food security, or water scarcity, all too often “population growth” is cited as a cause for pessimism or even a reason not to strive for progress. I can almost see Thomas Malthus grinning at me from the shadows.
It gets worse. I recently reviewed a paper where higher fertility among minorities was touted as an explanation for their poverty! A few months ago, a respected professional wrote asking why we weren’t doing more on family planning, since fertility in Africa would pretty much stymie any efforts to provide infrastructure-based services! I hear statements to this effect routinely from policy makers in charge of infrastructure ministries and projects (“how can we keep up with the population?” or “nothing we do will be enough unless we control the population”) but am always amazed when I hear them from scientists of different hues.
So I thought I’d try to set the record straight:
Attempts to understand population growth and the determinants of fertility date as far back as the late 1700s, when Thomas Malthus wrote ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population.’
Postulating that fertility decisions are influenced by women’s opportunity cost of time (Becker, 1960), choice over fertility has been incorporated in more recent times into growth models in order to understand the joint behavior of population and economic development throughout history. The large majority of existing analyses examine individual countries in a closed-economy setting. However, in an era of ever-increasing integration of world markets, the role of globalization in determining fertility can no longer be ignored.
Taking a break from the How Change Happens book this week to head off to Harvard for a Matt Andrews/ODI seminar on ‘Doing Development Differently’ + a day at Oxfam America on Friday. Will report back, I’m sure. Meanwhile, I’ve just finished the draft chapter on the power of social norms, and how they change (and can be changed). ODI provides an absolute gold mine of a crib sheet on this in the shape of Drivers of Change in Gender norms: An annotated bibliography, by Rachel Marcus and Ella Page with Rebecca Calder and Catriona Foley.
Here’s one of the excerpts that caught my eye:
Jensen, R. and Oster, E. (2007) ‘The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women’s Status in India’. Working Paper 13305. Cambridge, MA: NBER