Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 201–221 | Cite as

Population Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case of Both Normative and Coercive Ties to the World Polity

  • Rachel Sullivan RobinsonEmail author


During the 1980s and 1990s, two-thirds of sub-Saharan African countries adopted national population policies to reduce population growth. Based on multivariate statistical analysis, I show that countries with more ties to the world polity were more likely to adopt population policies. In order to refine world polity theory, however, I distinguish between normative and coercive ties to the world polity. I show that ties to the world polity via international nongovernmental organizations became predictive of population policy adoption only after the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development institutionalized reproductive health as a global norm to which countries could show adherence through population policies. Ties to the World Bank in the form of indebtedness, presumed to be coercive, were associated with population policy adoption throughout the time period observed. Gross domestic product per capita, democracy, and religion also all predicted population policy adoption. The case of population policy adoption in sub-Saharan Africa thus demonstrates that ties to organizations likely to exert normative pressure are most influential when something about international norms is at stake, while ties to organizations with coercive capacity matter regardless of time, but may be easier for wealthier countries to resist.


Population policy Sub-Saharan Africa Institutionalism International Conference on Population and Development International nongovernmental organizations 



This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship as well as a Faculty Research Award from American University. It greatly benefitted from feedback from the Berkeley Center for Culture, Organization, and Politics workshop, the Berkeley Department of Demography Brown Bag Series, and the session on cross-national sociology at the 2006 American Sociological Association meeting.  I am particularly indebted to the suggestions of the anonymous reviewers from PRPR.  I thank Yolande Bouka, Dorothy Fort, Barbara Lukunka, Katie Rice, Jennifer Vanderburgh and Yang Zhang for their research assistance.  I also gratefully acknowledge the thoughtful comments of Deborah Barrett, Neil Fligstein, David John Frank, Shannon Gleason, Gene Hammel, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, Kate Haulman, Charles Kurzman, Adrea Lawrence, Damon Mayrl, Benjamin Moodie, Aliya Saperstein, Evan Schofer, Susan Shepler, Sarah Staveteig, Ann Swidler, Bryan Sykes, Sarah Walchuk Thayer, Sarah Tom, Kenneth Wachter, Susan Watkins, Brenda Werth, Elizabeth Worden, and Danzhen You.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of International ServiceAmerican UniversityWashingtonUSA

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