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The Human Population:
Patterns, Processes, and Problematics
Lecture #9: Ch6: The Fertility Transition
Paul Sutton
[email protected]
Department of Geography
University of Denver
Chapter 6 Outline
• 1) Explanations for High Fertility
• 2) Explanations for Low Fertility
• 3) Some High Fertility Countries
• 4) Some Low Fertility Countries
Bertrand Russel Quote (1959):
“I am inclined to think that the most
important of Western values is the habit
of a low birth-rate. If this can be spread
throughout the world, the rest of what is
good in Western life can also be spread.
There can be not only prosperity, but
peace. But if the West continues to
monopolize the benefits of low birth-rate(s), war,
pestilence, and famine must continue, and our brief
emergence from those ancient evils must be swallowed
in a new flood of ignorance, destitution, and war.”
Does anyone else hear echoes of Malthus?
Explanations for High Fertility
Need to replenish society
Children as security and labor
Desire for sons
Family control vs. Fertility control
Global Map of Total Fertility Rate (TFR)
Spatial pattern the same as when Bertrand Russel made
his 1949 statement but actual levels are lower
The Evolutionary Result:
The Breeders win (need to replenish society)
• For 99% of human history mortality was high
• Only High Fertility insured survival
• Pro-Natalist ‘cults of Fertility’ are an appropriate
adaptation for survival.
Need to Replenish Society
• Fact: 2 children/woman must survive to
reproduce (on average)
• Only those societies that developed social
institutions that encouraged child bearing
and rewarded parenthood survived.
Kgatla people of South Africa
“A woman with many children is honored. Married couples
acquire new dignity after the birth of their first child.
Since the Kgatla have a patrilineal descent system
(inheritance passes through the sons), the birth of a son
makes the father the founder of a line that
will perpetuate his
name and memory…
[the mother’s] kin
are pleased because
the birth saves them
from shame”
Yoruba People of West Nigeria
Less than 4 children a family tragedy
Personally desired fertility of 5.6
‘Socially’ desired fertility 3 or less
Actual fertility in between these value
because of involuntary infecundity
Social Encouragement of High Fertility
• “We often find for example that the permissive enjoyment
of sexual intercourse, the ownership of land, the
admission to certain offices, the claim to respect, and the
attainment of blessedness are made contingent upon
marriage. Marriage accomplished, the more specific
encouragements to fertility apply. In familistic societies
where kinship forms the chief basis of social organization,
reproduction is a necessary means to nearly every major
goal in life. The salvation of the soul, the security of old
age, the production of goods, the protection of the hearth,
and the assurance of affection may depend upon the
presence, help, and comfort of progeny….[T]his
articulation of the parental status with the rest of one’s
statuses is the supreme encouragement to fertility.”
Societal disconnect between infant and
child mortality and fertility
‘Pro-natalist pressure encourages family
members to bring power and prestige to
themselves and to their group by having
children; and, this may have no
particular relationship to the level of
mortality within a family’
Any problems with this reasoning?
Children as Security & Labor
• In Pre-Modern Societies human beings are the
primary economic resource
• Even young children can
produce more than they
consume and support sick
and elderly
Note: Diamond in Guns, Germs,
and Steel notes that elderly make
key informational contributions to
Pre-Modern societies. In fact, our
life expectancy reaching a certain
critical point may have been key to
development of complex civilization
(This observation may be from other
book ‘The Third Chimpanzee’)
Esther Boserup Quote (1981)
“In most of Africa, a large share of the agricultural work
was and is done by women and the children, even very
young ones, perform numerous tasks in rural areas. A
man with many children can have his land cleared for
long-fallow cultivation by young sons, and all, or nearly
all, other agricultural work done by women and smaller
children. He need not pay for hired labor or fear for lack
of support in old age. A large family is an economic
advantage--a provider of social security, and of prestige
in the local community. Therefore, the large family is
the universally agreed on ideal in most African
What is the perception as to:
How do more children help?
• Human Lottery Tickets (one may get rich)
• Help with crops etc.
• Migrate elsewhere and send money home
What is the Reality as to:
How do children help?
• Parents usually die before it is an issue
• In Pre-Modern society quantity more
important than quality of children
• Studies show only a weak link between fertility
and percieved need for old-age security
Desire for Sons
• Most Human Societies are Male Dominated
(exception: Minoan Crete and Navajo Nation?)
• In societies seeking “An heir and a spare” The TFR
can almost be predicted by what TFR is needed for 2
male children
In Pakistan 5.6 in Angola 6.8
• When Daughters marry Daughter’s Family provides
Dowry to New Bride and Groom. This is a serious
economic disincentive for daughters.
Desire for Sons in India
• Hindu Religion requires
parents to be buried by their son.
(BTW mom’s supposed to burn herself
On dad’s grave (Sati))
“A son obtains victory over all people.
A grandson provides immortality.
A great grandson vaults one to the solar abode”
• Needles to say this kind of belief system does
encourage high fertility.
Desire for Sons continued….
• Malaysia: Low desire for sons in both
Malay (Muslim) and Indian (Hindu)
• China: High desire for sons
• Korea: High desire for sons
• Viet Nam: High desire for sons
Desire for Sons and Dropping
Fertility (How can that work?)
• Infanticide (not as common as previously
• Sex-Selective Abortion (very common)
• Result: More boys than girls in countries with
high desire for sons. How big a social problem
this will manifest as is an interesting question
Desire for Sons:
The European Version (Primogeniture)
• Definition: Primogeniture
– 1) The state of being the firstborn of the children of
the same parents
– 2) The exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the
eldest son
• The male children:
1)The Heir 2) The Soldier 3) The Priest
Primogeniture waned with gender equity and the
ideal family in Europe is now 1 boy and 1 girl
Family Control & Fertility Control
• Natural Fertility rarely as high as Maximum
• Families Maximize benefit of Children
• Net Reproduction is how many survive
• Post-Natal Control methods
– Infanticide
– Fosterage
– Orphanage
Note: Post-Natal control is NOT fertility control
Keeping Women Down
• Making women have a lot of children is a great
way to prevent them from doing a lot of other
things. (How is it accomplished?)
– Child bearing & rearing as Female
– No outside work or work for money
– No social mobility
– Family and Social Pressure to be a mother
Explanations for the Fertility Transition
• 1) Rational Response to Supply-Demand
framework (children as neo-classical
economic goods)
• 2) Socio-cultural influences adopted or
created “Innovation/diffusion” perspective
Two Primary Forces of the
Demographic Transition
1) Mortality Decline
2) Fertility Decline
Thus: “The New Home Economics” aka
The Supply-Demand Framework
Richard Easterlin’s
“New Home Economics”
(Neo-Classical Economic Perspective)
• Household is the unit of analysis
• High Fertility may avoid risk in LDCs
with weak institutions and children may
increase income flow
• Children as commodities
• Parents as ‘rational’ consumers
In “Supply-Demand” paradigm…
• Fertility drops when supply of children
exceeds demand
– Cause 1: reduced infant mortality
– Cause 2: increased opportunity costs
• Decision about having children is a
complex Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA)
Gary Becker (1960) takes Easterlin’s New
Home Economics/Supply-Demand farther
• Children as commodities with different
individuals having different ‘utility’ functions
associated with 1st, 2nd, 3rd child
• Children as consumer goods which cost both time
and money to acquire
• Trade-off between Quality & Quantity of children
with wealthy opting for Quality and poor for
Why do people in the U.S. have any
children if there are no economic
benefits for having them?
Psychological Satisfaction
Proof of adulthood
Integration into family and community
Establish social networks
Contribute to drama of evolution
Easterlin & Becker’s REAL
explanation for Fertility Decline
“It’s the economy stupid.”
• Other things in life compete with children
• Other sources of income than children
• Other ways to spend time and money than on
– Availability of contraception not enough.
– Desire for fewer children a necessary pre-cursor
• Early Times: Power -> High Fertility
– See Gorillas, Sea Lions, etc. in Natural World
• Modern Times: Power -> Low Fertility
– Is there something ‘unnatural’ going on here?”
“The rich get richer and the poor have children.”
To what extent does this inhibit the rich from being open to
broader redistribution of wealth?
Education & Fertility
• Mass Education is Relatively New
• Education is correlated with Secularization
• Education is best SES variable for predicting
attitudes about reproduction
• Educated people are the ‘Agents of Change’
of Fertility in “cultural” innovation/diffusion
The “Innovation/Diffusion”
or “Cultural” perspective
“Not all social scientists agree that
human behavior is described by
rational neo-classical economic
theory. Sociologists, Anthropologists,
& Cultural Geographers argue that
many changes in society are the result
of diffusion of innovation”
Examples anyone?
How important are great
individuals in bringing about
social and political change?
• Ghandi and India’s Independence?
• Reagan and the Soviet Union’s collapse?
• Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood?
If lower fertility is brought about by innovation and or
diffusion of a ‘cultural’ value ….
Could Fertility Decline be brought about by a cultural
Margaret Sanger
Mother of Planned Parenthood
Margaret Sanger's work as a visiting nurse focused her interest in sex education and women's health. In 1912 she began writing a
column on sex education for the New York Call entitled "What Every Girl Should Know." This experience led to her first battle with
censors, who suppressed her column on venereal disease, deeming it obscene. Increasingly, it was the issue of family limitation that
attracted Sanger's attention as she worked in New York's Lower East Side with poor women suffering the pain of frequent
childbirth, miscarriage and abortion. Influenced by the ideas of anarchist Emma Goldman, Sanger began to argue for the need for
family limitation as a tool by which working-class women would liberate themselves from the economic burden of unwanted
Shocked by the inability of most women to obtain accurate and effective birth control, which she believed was fundamental to
securing freedom and independence for working women, Sanger began challenging the 1873 federal Comstock law and the various
"little Comstock" state laws that banned the dissemination of contraceptive information. In March 1914, Sanger published the first
issue of The Woman Rebel, a radical feminist monthly that advocated militant feminism, including the right to practice birth control.
For advocating the use of contraception, three issues of The Woman Rebel were banned, and in August 1914 Sanger was eventually
indicted for violating postal obscenity laws. Unwilling to risk a lengthy imprisonment for breaking federal laws, Sanger jumped bail
in October and, using the alias "Bertha Watson," set sail for England. En route, she ordered friends to release 100,000 copies of
Family Limitation, a 16-page pamphlet which provided explicit instructions on the use of a variety of contraceptive methods.
On arrival in England, Margaret Sanger contacted a number of British radicals, feminists, and neo-Malthusians whose social and
economic theories helped Sanger develop broader justifications for the use of birth control. She was also deeply influenced by
psychologist Havelock Ellis and his theories on the importance of female sexuality. Sanger broadened her arguments for birth
control claiming it would fulfill a critical psychological need by enabling women to fully enjoy sexual relations, free from the fear of
In 1915 William Sanger was jailed for 30 days for distributing a copy of Family Limitation to an undercover postal agent. Shortly
after, in October of that year, Margaret Sanger, keen to focus media attention on her trial and generate favorable public support,
returned to New York to face The Woman Rebel charges. When her only daughter, five-year old Peggy, died suddenly in November,
sympathetic publicity convinced the government to drop Sanger's prosecution. Denied the forum of a public trial, Sanger embarked
on a nationwide tour to promote birth control. Arrested in several cities, her confrontational style attracted even greater publicity
for herself and the cause of birth control.
3 Conditions for Fertility Decline
• 1) Acceptance of Calculated Choice as a
valid element in marital fertility
• 2) Perception of Advantages from reduced
• 3) Knowledge, Mastery, and Availability of
effective techniques of fertility control
Leon Tabah’s 1980 Quote:
“Motivations for childbearing cannot in themselves
explain behavior without reference to the social
environment. Thus, American sociologists and
demographers have for many years observed that
changes in the social climate of the United States at the
time of the Great Depression and equally during the
postwar baby boom had more influence on fertility than
the so-called personal variables (education, income,
religion of the individual). Through this reasoning, one
comes to appeal to the ‘collective conscience’, that
overr-riding force that operates on our lives at the same
time that we believe we are controlling them
The Role of Public Policy in
Fertility Decline
• 1) Is more or less appealing to have children? (tax
laws, education expectations, etc.)
• 2) Is easier or more difficult to control fertility?
(Is abortion legal, are contraceptives available and
Government Poverty & Fertility
• U.S and British Policy to limit Public’s access to
information about birth control (Why Margaret Sanger is
my heroine)
• 1920’s Russia repealed anti-abortion laws & made
divorce easier. Result: Birth Rates dropped to much for
their tast and re-outlawed abortion in the 1930’s
• Cuban Revolution in 1959 CBR jumped from 27 to 37.
Ironic Malthusian response to improved economic
• Egypt made unsuccessful attempts at fertility control but
economic policies had more influence on fertility
What does Fertility Decline look like?
• Evolution from children having children to women
having children. (increased age of women having first
• Smaller completed family size (stopping at four instead
of 6 or 2 instead of 4)
• Age specific Fertility Rates drop across all ages but
much more markedly at very young and very old ages.
(women concentrate their births in the 20-34 year old
• Parity Progression Ratios change (e.g. what are the odds
of having n+1 babies given the fact that a woman has
had n babies)
to Age
Rates in
Next up a look at actual
conditions in some countries
• High Fertility:
– Jordan, India, Mexico
• Low Fertility:
– England, Japan, Canada, and the United States