Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seeing the Forrest: Population, Development, and Women’s Self-Determination

In a recent New York Times article, Elisabeth Rosenthal addresses the population crisis occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, where population in many areas far exceeds resources. This rampant population growth has predictably disastrous consequences: substandard living conditions, congestion, rampant unemployment, drains on infrastructure and natural resources (including food and water supply), and, in some areas, immigration concerns.

Rosenthal specifically cites the case of Nigeria, which has seen its population balloon in the last quarter-century to 300 million people despite the spatial and economic limitations of the country. Nigeria contributes to a trend of overall population increase in sub-Saharan Africa, where, in many countries, women often average more than 5 children. Experts state that it growth within this region that is largely accountable for the world population recently exceeding 7 billion.

This is in stark contrast to “developing” countries* in Asia and Latin America, which have seen birth rates stabilize at the expert-sanctioned 2 children per family after years of intensive policy prescriptions aimed at lowering fertility. What is note-worthy, is that most of these interventions are directed at improving women's opportunities and choices.  As the world has learned, when women are educated, afforded some degree of self-determination, and have access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare, the birth rate drastically decreases and standard of living increases.