top.gif - 25.77 K

Family Values & Population: A Reply to the Contraceptive Critics

overpop.gif - 21.07 K
Population Action International:
Scarce Land, Water & Natural Resources

New York Times
Chronicles a Wary Europe's " Baby Bust"

Compiled by Badpuppy's GayToday
From Population Action International Reports

On Friday, July 10, the front page of the New York Times showcased a special report titled "The Baby Bust," with a headline reading "Population Implosion Worries a Graying Europe."

The article, by Michael Specter, states that "there is no longer a single country in Europe where people are having enough children to replace themselves when they die."

Italy, for example, has become " the first nation in history where there are more people over the age of 60 than there are under the age of 20." Other low-density nations include Germany, Bulgaria and Spain. Bologna, Italy is the city with the lowest fertility rate in the world.

Pierpaolo Donati, a Roman Catholic professor of sociology in that city, told the Times that "Prosperity has strangled us…Comfort is now the only thing anybody believes in. The idea of sacrifice for a family—one of the basic ideas of human societies—has become a historical notion. It is astonishing."

A Roman Catholic Cardinal in Bologna is quoted as saying, that the city's "lack of interest in families symbolizes our loss of faith in ourselves."

The Times points out that European working women have little time to raise children. It is hardly a "loss of faith in ourselves" that precludes child-bearing, say others, but a change in economic circumstances and the resultant seizure by women of their right to reject persistent Roman Catholic urgings that they reproduce.

The Roman Catholic Church repudiates every one of the recently-developed technologies that are collectively known as birth control or contraception, including the taking of birth control pills and the use of condoms.

Apparently, according to population watchdog groups, this is a course of folly. Population Action International says that while European populations are indeed dwindling, the population explosion is far from over.

"Some analysts claim population growth is no longer a problem," says the activist group, "based on the trend towards smaller families and very low fertility rates in some countries."

But although growth rates are slowing from their all-time high, human numbers are still increasing, according to PAI.

tech1.gif - 11.22 KWorld Population is currently growing by about 1.5 percent a year, down from a peak of little over 2 percent in the 1960s. But because total population size has been steadily increasing, even at the lower rate of growth about 80 million people will be added to the world in 1998—well above the 72 million people added in 1968 when Paul Ehrlich's book, The Population Bomb, was published.

World population will continue growing. United Nations (UN) projections indicate that the world's population could reach between 7.7 billion and 11.2 billion by the mid-21st century under different assumptions about future birthrates. These projections incorporate recent downward revisions reflecting earlier declines in family size in some countries.

Still, under the lowest projection, population would continue to grow for several more decades before beginning to decline slowly; under the highest projection, world population would reach 27 billion and still be growing in 2150. According to medium projection, population would stabalize at slightly under 11 billion around 2150. These projections, however, are only statistical "guesstimates"—there is no certainty about future population trends, or even that population growth will end during the coming century.

…And is Unprecedented

Population growth over the last half century is unparalleled in the history of our planet. Human population took hundreds of thousands of years to grow to 2.5 billion in 1950; since then, in less than 50 years, it has more than doubled to 5.9 billion. Most of this growth has been in developing countries where advances in public health have contributed to lower mortality at all ages. Death rates have fallen faster than birthrates, resulting in higher population growth rates.

Because of this rapid recent growth, between one-third and one-half of the population in most developing countries is under age 15. Over percent of future population growth is also expected to occur in the developing regions.

Many poor countries are already struggling to support their current populations. Rapid population growth is contributing in many countries to increasing degradation of land, water and other natural resources and making it more difficult to meet the demand for jobs as well as for health care and education.

tech2.gif - 12.50 KIn sub-Saharan Africa, for example, food production per person has fallen by 16 percent over the past 30 years. By 2025, the number of primary school-age children is projected to double, straining education budgets and facilities. As a result of continuing population growth, by the middle of the next century at least two billion people will live in countries where water shortages threaten public health and constrain food production and economic development.

Falling Birthrates, Continuing Growth

Worldwide, average family size is currently three children, significantly higher than the two-child "replacement level" required for population to eventually stabilize. This global average masks great differences among regions. Most industrialized countries now have an average family size of fewer than two children and are growing relatively slowly. Average family size in developing countries is more diverse, raging from two children in a few countries to six or seven in many others.

When average family size is even slightly higher than two children, population will continue to grow; where average family size is much larger, pop;ulation grows very rapidly, doubling in as little as 20 years. But even if average family size worldwide were to go immediately to two children, because of the built-in momentum for future growth created by the young age structure in many countries, world population would still grow to 8.4 billion in 2050.

In many developing countries, average family size has fallen dramatically, although population continues to grow. A variety of factors has contributed to the widespread desire for smaller families, including urbanization and industrialization, the perceived need to invest in educating children, and increased education and employment opportunities for women. Parents may also be influenced by the difficulty of providing for large families where food, water, fuel and other resources are in scarce supply.

Together with improved access to family planning, these factors have fueled a decline in birthrates over the past 30 years. In some countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, average family size has fallen from six children to two or fewer in just a single generation. But with large numbers of young people entering their childbearing years, most of these countries are still growing by one to two percent a year. Average family size has also fallen to a lesser extent in most of Latin America, North Africa, parts of Asia and a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

tech3.gif - 9.42 KYet women in some regions still have between five and seven children. Poor access to family planning (birth control methods) and the low status of women continue to drive high rates of population growth in most of sub-Saharan Africa, in many countries of the Middle East and in parts of South Asia. In many of these countries, couples still want large families, in part to offset continuing high infant mortality and ensure a certain number of surviving children. Growing at rates of 2.5 to 3.5 percent annually, these countries could double in size in 20 to 30 years.


Population will likely continue to grow even in those countries most affected by the AIDS epidemic. Especially in Africa, AIDS is contributing to higher death rates and lower life expectancy; the epidemic is now spreading rapdily in Asia. Lack of good information on current HIV infection rates and on the likely future course of the epidemic makes it difficult to predict how AIDS will affect population growth in a particular country. Various projections agree that AIDS will lower population growth rates in some countries, but will not stop population from growing in most countries. One set of projections suggests that AIDS may cause a decline in population size in a few of the hardest-hit countries.

Is Population Decline Imminent?

In most industrialized countries, average family size is now below the two-child replacement level, but these countries have only limited impact on global demographic trends. For the industrialized regions overall, average family size has fallen from 2.7 children in 1960 to about 1.6 children today. In several developed countries, including Greece, Italy and Spain, women now bear as few as 1.1 to 1.3 children on average. The developed regions, however, have only one-fifth of total world population.

Moreover, while the small family has become the norm in developed countries, the future path of fertility in individual countries remains difficult to predict. For example, despite a long-term downward trend, birthrates experienced a short-term increase in the late 1980s in the United States and Sweden. And the U.S. population is expected to grow significantly over the next half century: medium projections by the U.N. and the U.S. Census Bureau show the U.S. population increasing from 270 million today to between 347 and 392 million in 2050, inclusive of immigration.

Population decline is occurring, but only in a handful of countries. European population growth, which fueled immigration to the Americas for three centuries, has nearly halted and will probably reverse course in the near future. East Asia, Japan and South Korea are also likely to experience a gradual decline in population size beginning early in the 21st century. However, major declines outside these regions are unlikely until after 2025, if indeed they occur at all.

Impact of Smaller Families

The economic and social challenges associated with fertility decline are in no way comparable to those presented by rapid population growth. If low fertility rates continue, Germany, Italy, Russia and Spain could see their populations shrink by 5 to 15 percent by 2025—an average reduction of less than one percent per year. In contrast, countries such as Nigeria, Zaire and Jordan with annual growth rates of three percent or more will likely see their populations more than double over the same time period if fertility remains unchanged.

In developing countries, children in small families tend to be better educated and healthier. Research shows that parents with fewer children invest more in each child than those with larger families. And where fertility remains high, studies reveal that family planning reduces pregnancy-related death and illness. Increased child spacing alone could reduce infant mortality by up to one-third in some developing countries. World Bank research also suggests that smaller family size played a role in the rapid economic transformation and growth of several East Asian nations. A decline in family size would likely accelerate development in other countries still experiencing high birthrates as well.

Aging populations challenge "Pay as You Go" Benefit Programs for retirees. As couples have fewer children, the elderly represent a larger proportion of the population. The decline in the numbers of workers per retiree may challenge the viability of pension and health systems funded by younger workers rather than the savings of retirees. Many developed countries—and some developing nations as well—are therefore taking steps to place such plans on a sounder financial footing.

Despite low fertility in developed countries, there are no 'siblingless" societies. Average fertility of little over one child per woman in some developed countries has prompted claims that the absence of siblings may undermine their quality of life. Yet even in these countries, actual family size remains diverse; some couples have two or more children, while others choose to have one child or none. The quality of life for small families in these countries is likely far better than that of large families in many poor countries, where siblings must compete for basic nutrition, education opportunities, and maternal care and attention.

Need for Family Planning

Despite increases in contraceptive use, the need for family planning is still growing. Because of the younger age structure in developing countries, the number of women entering their childbearing years is increasing at a more rapid rate than world population—at about 2 percent, or 24 million women a year. As couples desire fewer children, they also need effective contraceptive protection over a longer period of their lives. Meanwhile, more than 100 million married women in developing countries have already expressed an unmet need for family planning.

tech4.gif - 11.16 KThe success of family planning programs, as reflected in improved maternal and child health and rapid declines in family size, is no reason to withdraw support from these efforts. The effectiveness of good quality voluntary family planning programs has been proven and the need for these services continues to grow. Family planning information and services remain beyond the reach of many poor people, one billion of whom live on a dollar a day or less. While on average developing countries pay for 75 percent of the costs of family planning, assistance provided by donor countries is important, especially in the very poorest countries. The international community should redouble its efforts to help those who want to have smaller families, which would also help assure the continued slowing of world population growth.

A Better Future

In about 50 countries, including about a dozen developing nations, average family size is now at or below the replacement level of two children, a treand that is expected to continue. Population growth rates have fallen temporarily in the past when death rates have increased because of wars, famines and epidemics. However, the current decline in birthrates is linked to the process of modernization and to peoples' aspirations for a better life, making a return to high birthrates seem improbable. Over the long term, the trend towards low birthrates and death rates is likely to yield a return to more moderate population growth, as experienced prior to 1950.

This trend towards smaller families is beneficial for both developed and developing nations. Each individual in the industrialized regions consumes many times the resources consumed by each person in the developing world; it is unlikely the earth could long sustain even the current world population at such high consumption levels. Meanwhile, declining birthrates in developing countries reflect dramatic improvements in the quality of life, especially for women, who increasingly go to school, delay marriage and child-bearing, and have a voice in their own destiny. The evidence is overwhelming that the current trend towards smaller families and slower population growth is beneficial to the well-being of both our planet and its people.

Population Action International:
1120 19th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone: (202) 659-1833
Fax: (202) 293-1795

© 1997-98 BEI