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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Should Countries Enforce Population Control?

An opinion piece with this evocative title was published over the weekend by encouraging people to weigh in with their own opinions.  I'm guessing that the whole topic was inspired by the a book titled "Choosing Daughters: Family Change in Rural China," by Lihong Shi, an anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University, since much of the written space is given over to China's one-child policy. The editors also seem to accept the somewhat controversial analysis of David Goodkind that the one-child policy averted 400 million births in that country. As I said when that issue first emerged: "The one-child policy was a human rights disaster and, in my view, was not necessary to the drop in fertility in China. The Chinese were going to avert those births with or without that policy."

The title of the article suggests that "population control" means population limitation, with references to trying to limit births in China and India, and also getting into sterilization programs among mentally-ill people that arose during the social Darwinist movement early in the 20th century. However, if you watch the video of people interviewed on the street somewhere, you actually see a more nuanced view of "control." Human society controls many aspects of demographic change in ways that both encourage and discourage population growth. For example, we regulate human fertility by regulating age at marriage, and often by limiting your options once you are married, limiting incestuous sexual relationships, controlling access to contraception and abortion, as well as access to health providers who might be able to save lives were they more available. We allow access to guns that can kill people, but delay our reaction to finding lead or other contaminants in the water (keeping in mind that clean water is essential to human health). We control access to toileting and sewerage. We control who can come into and, in some cases, who can leave countries. In other words, as humans we control aspects not just of fertility, but mortality, and migration as well. Some of these regulations encourage lower rates of growth, at least in local places, and others encourage higher rates of growth. 

In my view, the bottom line is that a successful future for human society requires giving each of us as much control as possible over our own lives, especially in terms of reproduction and health and the ability to move where we want at least within our own country, but always keeping in mind that humans are a social species and we need to have a set of rules ("laws") that we can agree upon and make sense to us. A key element of this kind of "positive" control is education and on this point I am in 100% agreement with the conclusion: "Educating and empowering women just might save us all".

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