The concept of the demographic transition, that population stabilization is associated with economic development, has led to controversy about the best means for stabilizing populations in developing nations.
1. One school of thought argues that speeding completion of the demographic transition by furthering economic and social development will be the most effective approach.
2. Another school of thought argues that it will be most effective to foster family planning programs, which include provision ofinformation about the connection between population size and resource availability, in nations that are still in phases of rapid population growth.
As we will see, it is likely that both kinds of approaches are important, and can reinforce each other.
The first school of thought was adhered to by the Reagan and both Bush administrations. During the Reagan era, the U.S. stopped giving financial support to International Planned Parenthood and UNFPA (the UN Fund for Population Activities). Funding was withdrawn in part because both organizations gave money to China, which advocated abortion as a viable means of population control. This withdrawl of US funding is often referred to as the "Mexico City Policy" because the administration announced it during the 1974 International Conference on Population. However, the decision was also in part philosophical, and based on the idea that fostering economic development would be more effective in achieving population stabilization than advancing family planning programs would be.
In fact, a focus on speeding economic development (and hence passage through the demographic transition) characterized the first UN Conference on Population and Development, held in 1974. (These UN-sponsored conferences on population are held every 10 years.)
By contrast, the Clinton administration held that both economic development and effective family planning programs are necessary. It also maintained that changes in the status of women are critically important. This administration restored some funding to the UN's population activities, and the US was a leader at the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which focused very heavily on the relationship between status of women and population growth.
One of the first acts of the George W. Bush administration in 2001 was, however, to pull US funding once again from non-governmental international family planning programs that use their own funds (not US-derived funds) to provide counseling and information on abortion, and, in some cases, provide abortions. (Note that no US funds can legally be used to fund abortions in any country, and this use has been illegal since the 1973 Helms Act.) The Bush administration argued, however, that no US funds should go to support any family planning program that includes abortion in its advice or "tool kit" even if they aren't using US funds to provide that information or service. This action by the Bush administration was referred to by some as "the Global Gag Rule," because it effectively "gags" non-governmental family planning organizations from discussing or using abortion - since US funds are important to the organizations. The US is the largest international donor to family planning programs. Most of the money flows through USAID (US Agency for International Development). About half of that money goes to governments and multilateral agencies, such as the UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities), which aren't subject to the "gag rule," while half goes to non-governmental organizations (NGO's), which are subject to it. Because the US historically provided so much of the funding for these NGO's, several had to close after the gag rule went into place. These felt that they simply could not provide comprehensive famioly planning services if they weren't allowed to provide information and counseling about abortion. Thus, families that were served by these NGO's had to look elsewhere, and "elsewhere" may mean nowhere for many of them. George W. Bush went even farther in restricting US assistance to international planning efforts. His administration also pulled considerable funds that had been given by the U.S. to UNFPA, alleging that UNFPA funds were being used for coercive abortions and sterilizations in China; a charge that has not been substantiated. One of the first acts of the Obama administration, however, was to reverse the "global gag rule" and restore funding to the agencies from whom it had previously been withheld, including the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA)..
Potential flaws with relying on fostering economic development to encourage completion of demographic transition include:
1) Its pace. Will it be fast enough? Classically, the transition has been very slow; on the order of 200 years of more. Do developing nations have that kind of time? People in many nations are already starving and using most of the potentially arable land, while their populations will double in three decades or less (see nations with r (%) > 2.3 % on the Population Fact Sheet). The demographic transition may simply be too slow.
(2) Resource availability. Many developing nations simply lack the resources (financial or otherwise) to undertake and complete major economic development. Most are already falling behind in per capita income. As their populations increase (rapidly), it is difficult to imagine that they could actually increase per capita income, as would traditionally be necessary for completion of the demographic transition.
(3) Fossil fuel energy. Such energy basically sustained the development that has taken place in the developed world, but is in short supply and very expensive --now.
(4) Finally, it is not clear that the demographic transition always "works." Some nations have industrialized without major decreases in fertility (e.g., Brazil), while in others, fertility declines have occurred without industrialization (Colombia, Sri Lanka). The European nations followed a hodgepodge of patterns. Thus, its success at guaranteeing population stabilization is not assumed.
We'll focus on the alternative -- family planning programs -- later in these notes. Encouraging the development of effective family planning programs was one of the main thrusts of the 1984 UN Population Conference, and this was also emphasized at the 1994 conference, along with a new focus on improving the status of women.
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Page maintained by Patricia Muir at Oregon State University. Last updated Oct 25, 2012.