Yes, It’s A Good Thing

That it is still possible to debate the advantages of extensive family planning efforts in the developing world (and, for that matter, here) never fails to astound.

The Economist reports here on a paper that only reinforces the case:

[W]hen poor economies start to grow, these disparities widen. The fertility rate of the whole country starts to fall but the families of the richest quintile get smaller faster than the families of the poorest quintile. In other words, the rich lead the process of demographic change, not the poor who have the most to gain and who, you might have thought, would find it easiest to reduce family size (because it seems a smaller step to have six, rather than seven children, than it is to have one, rather than two). The rich presumably find it easiest to control family size because they have the best access to family planning and their daughters are the most likely to be educated. This process goes on while economies have an income per head of between about $2000 and $5000. Between about $5000 and $10,000 a head, the three income quintiles in the middle start to reduce their family size faster. In other words, the middle class starts to catch up with the rich, presumably because they are getting access to family planning and wider female education, too. Then, by $10,000 a head, family size is falling by roughly equal amounts in every quintile: the poor have caught up with the rich and middle class, and fertility is falling across the board.

This paper says something new about demography by showing the relationship between income and fertility. It says something new about inequality by showing that there is a correlation between it and income in poor countries. And it has something interesting to say about public policy, since the findings would support the case for smoothing out the initial increase in inequality by encouraging the two things which help reduce fertility among the poorest quintile: family planning and female education.

Worth remembering the next time you hear the Vatican claiming that it is a force for ‘social justice’.

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1 Response to Yes, It’s A Good Thing

  1. Matt says:

    Lots of “presumably” scattered across the article which indicates that the author doesn’t really know what they are talking about. They have their cause and effect all backwards.

    Rich people don’t have smaller families because they can afford birth control. They have smaller families because they can afford to have smaller families! Poor people cannot.

    For the poor in poorer countries, children are a source of income, not a drain on finances as they are in the West. In these families, children are expected to work almost from the time they can walk. A large family also means more chance of more surviving to adulthood so they can support the parents in old age.

    Wealthier people do not have these concerns so they start to reduce family size as soon as they can afford to.

    Regardless of the best efforts of religious groups, access to birth control has never been a problem even for the poor. It is insulting to say that poor people have large families because they are ignorant about birth control. Poor people in poor countries have large families because they feel it is in their interests to do so.

    If you make people wealthy, family size will drop. Reducing family size does not necessarily make you wealthy.

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