This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Birth Control and Family Success

A tweet from the Population Council today sent me to a US News and World Report story summarizing the important work that they have done, and are continuing to do, to create ever better contraceptives. 
Currently, contraceptive rings like the NuvaRing offer women monthly protection against pregnancy. Every month, a woman inserts the ring – which releases low, continuous doses of the hormones estrogen and progestin – into her vagina. Before her period, she takes out the ring; afterwards, she replaces it with a fresh one.
The Population Council – a nonprofit that conducts biomedical and public health research – recently finished two Phase 3 clinical trials on a new contraceptive that is effective for one year of use.
But the ring isn’t just long lasting; it confers other benefits as well. This ring doesn’t need to be refrigerated, unlike its counterparts – meaning it’s ideal for women who might not have constant access to electricity, says Diana Blithe, program director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Contraceptive Discovery and Development program, which helps fund the project.
If approved by regulatory authorities, this contraceptive ring will be the first long-lasting, reversible contraceptive that’s completely under a woman’s control.
The story discusses other contraceptive innovations in the works, including improved condoms for females, so that they don't have to rely on a male partner. As I read the story, I could only think of the difference that careful use of contraception can make in people's lives. In many ways, that is the sub-text (at least in my mind) of the new book by Robert Putnam--Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis--which was reviewed in this week's Economist:
Among the educated elite the traditional family is thriving: fewer than 10% of births to female college graduates are outside marriage—a figure that is barely higher than it was in 1970. In 2007 among women with just a high-school education, by contrast, 65% of births were non-marital. Race makes a difference: only 2% of births to white college graduates are out-of-wedlock, compared with 80% among African-Americans with no more than a high-school education, but neither of these figures has changed much since the 1970s. However, the non-marital birth proportion among high-school-educated whites has quadrupled, to 50%, and the same figure for college-educated blacks has fallen by a third, to 25%. Thus the class divide is growing even as the racial gap is shrinking.
These differences in outcomes do not happen by chance. It is the choices that people make about the timing of children that drives the future success of those children. Contraceptives are key to all of this. 


  1. John Weeks - I saw an article today from one economist, or really a financial analyst, that was a bit misleading. Or that is my impression. He was focusing on birth rats, and saying that data indicates that they are generally declining. Hence the future of the world is a scenario where large nations that are economically powerful, such as the USA and Russia, may have populations that are stable or declining. Hence from the point of view of financial analysts, the problem is a declining population base.

    My impression is that such an argument is skewed or biased, because it is misinterpreting the trends. As far as I can see, we are still on track to achieve a global population of 9-10 billion by 2060. I will concede that most of the increase in population is not in the West, and certainly not in Europe. It is primarily in Africa and Asia. Therefore, for economists who are "West centric" in their thinking, the addition of another 1.8-2.8 billion people into the world may not figure heavily in their thinking.

    BUT can we really continue to dwell in a world where a "pyramid of economic power" is slanted so that it heavily favors America and the West? I would argue NO ... we cannot. Surely there comes a time when the addition of another 2 billion people stretches resources beyond their breaking point? And I believe that it also what you have been asking - when you look at projections for global food supply and demand. If people look at the West as an "isolated enclave" then perhaps a different story plays out. I do not believe we will be able to separate the world conveniently into the "haves" and the "have-nots" when we are looking at a global population of 9-10 billion people.

    Your thoughts on this? Is "global sustainability" really just the problem ... of someone else?

    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA

    1. I agree completely. Indeed, the mess in the middle east is, at root, a function of population growth in that region. It winds up affecting the rest of us in myriad ways that we scarcely understand. The same is true of population growth in Africa and South Asis.