Population and Development

A Selective Overview
  • Ozzie G. Simmons


In the preceding chapter, an effort was made to identify the links between various development perspectives and population growth. Doing so required a review of demographic-transition theory because this theory constituted the dominant demographic model employed to account for the role of development in reducing fertility. It was concluded that this model generated little specific explanatory power because it had nothing to say about causation and thus could not define a precise threshold of “modernization” that would readily identify a population in which fertility is ready to fall. Coale’s revision of transition theory identified three broad preconditions for sustained decline in marital fertility, namely, that fertility must be within the calculus of conscious choice, reduced fertility must be perceived as advantageous, and effective techniques of fertility reduction must be available. These may be preconditions for fertility decline, at least as pertains to the European experience, but the question remains as to what combinations of variables at specific levels result in the establishment of these preconditions and what levels or patterns of development are required for these preconditions to be sufficient as well as necessary to bring about fertility decline. Similarly, Caldwell’s restatement of transition theory makes a convincing case for the economic rationality of the large family in traditional culture as a powerful support for sustaining high fertility, but his thesis that “Westernization” ultimately destabilizes the conditions of high fertility is also vulnerable to the “threshold” problem, since it does not specify what degree of Westernization precipitates fertility decline. Moreover, conversion to the Western nuclear family is by no means a foregone conclusion, and in any case there is no evidence that such conversion would be sufficient to induce a substantial fertility decline.


Demographic Transition Fertility Decline Fertility Level Fertility Behavior Rapid Population Growth 
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  1. 1.
    For pioneering reviews of this literature, see Cassen (1976) and Birdsall (1977). Jones (1978) has done a review for East and Southeast Asia, and Urzua (1978) has done the same for Latin America. See also Miro and Potter (1980).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    In the view of Easterlin (1978:109), the elements of modernization that are relevant “in bringing about the shift to modern conditions of childbearing” are innovations in public health and medical care; innovations in formal schooling and mass media; urbanization; the introduction of new goods; and per capita income growth. He also notes that “more recently in a few countries another aspect of modernization—family planning programs—has perhaps also played a noticeable role in influencing reproductive behavior.” For further elaboration of his views on modernization, see Easterlin (1983) and Easterlin and Crimmins (1985).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    There is a very large literature on this theme. For some clear expositions, see Cassen (1976) and McNicoll (1984). Also, see the chapter on consequences of rapid population growth in International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (1984).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See, for example, Documents (1982) for the transcript of a television interview of Simon by William F. Buckley, Jr.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Coale and his associates also invoke cultural factors in explaining their findings with regard to a number of Central Asia republics of the Soviet Union, where there was continued high marital fertility as late as 1970 despite the presence of a number of indicators of “advanced” levels of development. They attribute this continuation primarily to the persistence of traditional values sustaining the rejection of voluntary birth control. See Coale, Anderson, and Härm (1979).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    For a summary of anthropological views on culture and population change, see American Association for the Advancement of Science (1974). See also Marshall, Morris. and Polgar (1972), Spooner (1972), LeVine and Scrimshaw (1983), and Nag (1983, 1984a). 10Davis (1973:21) says: “Our mores were formed when societies could survive only with a birth rate thrice that required by a modern death rate. Built into the social order, therefore, are values, norms, and incentives that motivate people to bear and rear children.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Oppenheimer (1982) has developed and tested an analytical model of decision-making in the family with respect to fertility behavior that incorporates, in addition to economic dimensions, social factors such as norms, institutions, and reference group comparisons. Employing United States Census samples, Oppenheimer focuses on the family as the major unit of analysis and specifies how social factors are essential for understanding decision-making with respect to marriage and the timing of births, family size, and participation of wives in the labor force.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    It may be noted that while Caldwell’s research leads him to argue that strong kin networks perpetuate high fertility, the research of Cain (1977, 1981, 1982) on Bangladesh and India leads him to the opposite conclusion, namely, that strong kin networks, by constituting a source of insurance as an alternative to children, may be conducive to fertility decline by preventing children from becoming the focus of parental concerns for security. In this connection, Burch (1979:183), in his review of the literature on household and family demography, says: “Empirical studies to date, while interesting in their own right as investigations of the interrelations of fertility and residential household formation, have largely failed to deal with the broader questions of how social and economic interdependencies among dispersed kin groups affect marriage and fertility decisions.”Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Robinson (1986) has published a critique of Cain’s thesis that children in Bangladesh constitute insurance for their parents against risk and that this “insurance function constitutes one of the main explanations of the high fertility” (ibid.:289). Robinson maintains that “however plausible, the risk-insurance hypothesis simply does not hold up, either logically or empirically” (ibid.:298). Consideration of Robinson’s argument, or of the reply by Cain (1986a), is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to say that in his reply, Cain states that Robinson has misread his work and reaffirms his argument that children are an important source of security to parents. He goes on to say (ibid.:303304), however, that he is uncertain “of the precise implication of this for reproductive behaviour” and calls for “comparative research on risk and insurance conducted at appropriate levels of analysis and intensive studies that focus on security issues in particular localities, on the role of children in mediating risk, on the criteria of fertility decisions, and on the material consequences of reproductive failure.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ozzie G. Simmons
    • 1
  1. 1.Fordham UniversityThe BronxUSA

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