Fertility and Economic Progress

Years ago I was dumfounded by an economist friend, (not Casey Mulligan who is referenced in this week’s Economist) when he argued that having more people in overpopulated Bangladesh was good. He concluded this believing that if there were more people there would be more innovators. At the time Bangladesh, a country the size of Wisconsin had about 90 million people. It was considered a population emergency.

This was of course during the period when our own government undermined population control efforts (BCP’s, education and such).

Now Bangladesh is approaching 150 million people, and these has been little change in poverty, landlessness, and economic well being–except for the sliver of well to do people at the top who always seem to benefit.

In any case this week’s Economist addresses demographic and concludes:

  • “And falling fertility is a boon for what it makes possible, which is economic growth. Demography used to be thought of as neutral for growth. But that was because, until the 1990s, there were few developing countries with records of declining fertility and rising incomes. Now there are dozens and they show that as countries move from large families and poverty into wealth and ageing they pass through a Goldilocks period: a generation or two in which fertility is neither too high nor too low and in which there are few dependent children, few dependent grandparents—and a bulge of adults in the middle who, if conditions are right, make the factories hum. For countries in demographic transition, the fall to replacement fertility is a unique and precious opportunity.”

Medicynical note: I can’t resist pointing out the devastation of ignoring population growth for the Reagan/Bush/Bush years. And also take the opportunity to point out that these same people are now downplaying the impact of global warming on civilization. Could they be wrong yet again!


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