Monday, July 18, 2011

Thinking about population policies

Years ago the debate in the development community about family planning seemed to focus only on the difficulties created by high rates of fertility and rapid population growth. It would be hard for families to support their many children, for school districts to build schools and train teachers to accommodate the large cohorts of children, for economies to create the jobs that they would need when they entered the job market. The environment would be further stressed. Food production would have to be increased very rapidly to feed the growing population and it was not clear how that could be done. Of course, all of those concerns continue to exist in countries in which birth rates are high.

The debate has been broadened. Of course, the rate of population growth has been successfully reduced in many countries and worldwide in general. Attention is being directed to the effects of the reduction policies. China with its one child policy is going to face a situation in which few workers are going to have to support a rapidly increasing population of people too old to work. Families that are having few children and prefer male children are using in fact reducing the numbers of girl children and no one knows what the results will be of who societies with massive imbalances in the male-female ratios.

On the other hand, we also hear that at the time when there is a bulge in working age people, with low dependency ratios (relatively few children due to low birth rates, relatively few aged due to earlier high mortality and high birth rates), a country can rapidly increase GDP and can invest in economic growth.

For the high income countries which now often have birth rates too low for replacement, policies are encouraging immigration to fill the labor needs of the economy. This results in brain drain from poor nations, and also results in social problems related to the changes in culture due to the new immigrants.

We also see unprecedented rates of rural to urban migration leading to the growth not only of cities of the sizes we are used to, but also to increasing numbers of mega-cities. It is obvious that this rapid urbanization is difficult to manage, but the social, economic and cultural impact of life in the mega-city seem especially unpredictable.

So, today demographic policies seem much more complicated and difficult to understand and develop than in the past.

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