Economic Scene; Controlling World Population Growth: Where to Put the Money

It is estimated that by the year 2050 the world’s population will have doubled. Unfortunately, the countries with the most rapidly growing populations are often those that cannot afford to educate or even feed more children. Many people think this is due to a lack of birth control, but unfortunately the reality is not that simple. John Bongaarts, an establishment demographer, states that family planning only has a “limited impact on population growth”. Lant H. Pritchett of the World Bank explained that “unwanted fertility plays a minor role” when it comes to explaining why African women have on average twice as many child births as Asian women.

In East Asia 75% of married women use contraception and the average family has 2.3 children while in Africa only 17% of married women use contraception and the average family has 6.1 children.   Even though modern contraception may make it easier for Kenyans to limit family size they have not responded. Other cultures such as Europeans had lower fertility rates without help from science. This shows that proper contraception may not be the cure for our increasing population. When a poll was taken, only one in five births in low-income countries was stated as undesired. It was found by Mr. Pritchett that 90% of the variation in childbirth between countries was simply because of a higher demand for children.

Mr. Bongaarts hypothesizes that an emphasis on education about family planning might be a more effective way to lower the projected population of 14.6 billion by the year 2100 to only 10 billion. This disputes the common belief that population growth can be controlled with birth control. It is commonly agreed upon that rather than supply more birth control we should explain to families that “small is beautiful”.

Therefore, in deciding where to spend money to control population growth, it may well be that education should take a priority over simply providing contraception.

Renee Dobrinsky

Topic: Human Population

New York Times

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