Professor Greg McIsaac
13 May 2010
Economic Development‘s Effects on Population Growth
After thousands of triumphant years, mankind may have found their greatest adversary:
runaway population growth. In the last half century, global population has more than doubled
growing from 3 billion in 1960 to over 6.6 billion in 2010 (Rosenberg). Humans‘ resource
consumption with current population levels stands at about 40% higher than the earth can
support, according to global footprint estimates (Ewing, Goldfinger, Oursler, Reed, and Moore
16). With increasing population, threats of resource shortages abound and increasing pollution
levels compromise our fragile ecosystem. Even as population growth rates begin to decrease,
there are many sustainability advocates that believe population should decline from current
levels (Longman 30).
Studies show the majority of population growth occurs in third world nations.
Furthermore, studies suggest a link between economic wealth and population growth. According
to a United Nations Population Division 2002 report on world population prospects, ―by mid-
century, the 80 percent share of the world‘s population in less developed countries in 2000, will
have expanded to 88 percent‖ (Population, Poverty, and Environment 21). Contrarily,
population data from the wealthiest nations show decreases in population. Most of Western
Europe is in a fertility crisis as fertility rates fall below replacement levels. Relatively wealthy
Europe‘s world population share is expected to decrease in the next quarter century from 13% to
7%. Impoverished sub-Saharan Africa will rise from 10% to 17% (Hinrichsen, and Robey 52).
This correlation between population growth and wealth suggests the wealthier a nation, the less
population growth it experiences. Yet, how directly does national wealth relate with national
population growth? Should economic development be a main strategy to slow population
growth? In order to answer these questions, I will examine international empirical evidence on
the relationships between economic wealth and fertility rates. Further, I will analyze two case
studies to illustrate economic development‘s effects on population growth. Finally, I will discuss
the critics‘ views of economic development and then offer my own conclusions and
recommendations. Addressing run away population growth correctly will be crucial to save our
Observed Relationships between Wealth and Fertility
Broken down simply, population growth is a function of a nation‘s birth rate and death
rate. Where birth rates exceed death rates, population grows. Birth rate is defined as the number
of live births there were in an area per 1000 population in a year. Fertility rate is closely related
to birth rate and is often a more useful measure because it is unaffected by the age distribution of
the population. Fertility rate is defined as the average number of children born to each woman
over the course of her life (Haupt, and Kane 13). . When addressing population growth,
lowering birth rates is more effective than raising death rates. Action to increase death rates is
inhumane and not an option for most governments to employ. Death rates usually decrease with
economic growth as health care and nutrition improve. This decrease in death rates can increase
population growth if fertility rates are not lowered by a larger margin.
Paul Harrison, in The Third Revolution, argues that high fertility rates in underdeveloped
countries occur because of high infant mortality. In poor agrarian societies, fatalism is
prominent. Most people‘s livelihoods are dependent upon the weather, disease, and accident
because they lack the wealth and accompanying infrastructure to gain independence from their
environment (Harrison 287). This fatal society caused by lack of wealth increases child mortality
rates. Operating under such life uncertainty, women over-insure by having many children
(Longman 33). For example, in the 2006 developed world, the average women needed to have
2.1 children to replace the population. However, in war torn Sierra Leone, the average woman
needed to have 3.43 children to replace the population. The actual fertility rate was 6.47 (World
Population Prospects 72). The reason for the discrepancy between actual fertility rate and
required fertility rate is that people‘s behavior is often not calculative. Given a linear increase in
infant mortality, there isn‘t a direct linear increase in fertility rate. In societies with high infant
mortality, there is an exponentially larger fertility rate to insure for the possibility of child death.
While this is not mathematically logical, it is rational. A mother may know the national average
number of her children that will perish, but she can not predict the exact number for her family.
To an impoverished mother, the costs of losing children are much higher than the costs to the
world of overpopulation. Therefore, given the uncertainty, she over insures by having more
children. If we lower infant mortality to the point where the risk is not significant, women can
accurately plan their families and not over-insure against uncertain loss.
Lower infant mortality rates can be achieved by improving a nation‘s economic wealth.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health relates infant
mortality with wealth. The study compared different nations, poor and wealthy, to see what
percent of newborns died from congenital anomalies. Congenital anomalies occur from genetic
mutations or poor health factors in the mother. This dependence upon genetics makes congenital
anomaly deaths more independent from nation wealth than other factors like malnutrition and
infectious diseases. The study states:
Infant mortality attributable to congenital anomalies in the
countries examined showed a strong inverse correlation with per
capita gross domestic product (r = −0.8, p < 0.001) for the period
1990–1994. Infant mortality attributable to congenital anomalies as
a proportion of all infant deaths correlated directly with per capita
gross domestic product (r = 0.5, p < 0.005) (Rosano 660-66).
This study shows that economic wealth can lower infant mortality in two ways. First, the inverse
correlation between per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and infant mortality due to
congenital anomalies shows that poorer nations have greater death rates from congenital
anomalies. While many congenital anomalies are genetic mutations and unaffected by health
care quality, some anomalies such as Spina Bifida can be reduced with better pre-natal nutrition
and post-natal health care, both neglected in undeveloped nations. Congenital anomalies slight
dependence on wealth is reflected in the inverse correlation. The second correlation in the study
relates congenital anomalies to wealth more significantly. The study shows that congenital
anomaly deaths make up a larger proportion of infant mortality in countries with a higher GDP.
The reason for this is that other infant mortality factors such as malnutrition and infectious
diseases are more dependent on wealth and therefore make up a larger proportion of poorer
nations infant mortality rate. By increasing a nation‘s wealth, you can slightly lower infant
mortality related to genetic mutation (congenital anomalies) while drastically reducing infant
mortality related to malnutrition and infectious diseases.
Increasing women‘s education can also lower fertility rates. Education raises a woman‘s
status and economic value in a society giving her different options other than child rearing. A
UN population study correlates fertility with education, ―Women with four to six years‘
education have, on average, 0.8 fewer children than those with no schooling at all. Women with
seven or more years‘ education marry, on average, over five years later and bear 2.3 children less
than uneducated women‖ (United Nations Population Division 224-25). Furthermore, data from
the National Family Health Survey (1992-1993) states that the mean ideal number of children
varies with education level. For illiterate women, the mean ideal number of children is 3.1; for
literate but below middle school complete, 2.6; for middle school complete, 2.4; for High School
and above, 2.1 (United Nations Population Division 224-25). According to the survey, as
women became more educated, they preferred smaller families. These two studies show that
education can dramatically affect fertility rates.
In high fertility rate societies, education for women is often sparse. Looking at 2006
education statistics in high fertility rate countries Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and Niger,
only 25% of the population attended secondary school. In primary school, less than 80 girls
enrolled for every 100 boys. Children from the richest 20% of the population are four to five
times more likely to enroll than children from the lowest quintile (Regional fact sheet – sub-
Saharan Africa). Since many poor women do not receive education, they have little economic
value to society other than raising children to labor in agriculture or industry. If they receive an
education however, they can fulfill jobs that earn a wage. Once a mother earns an income, she is
deterred from having more children since pregnancy would cause the temporary if not permanent
loss of such income.
The connection between higher education and lower fertility rates is clear and economic
development is crucial for achieving higher levels of education. In many societies with high
fertility rates, investment in education is sparse. According to the Education for All Global
Monitoring Report, ―In sub-Saharan Africa, about half of all low-income countries with data
spent less than 4% of their national income on education in 2006. For all countries in the region,
the median education expenditure as a share of GNP was 4.4% in 2006‖ (Regional fact sheet –
sub-Saharan Africa). However, increases in education investment often cause increases in
women‘s education. The United States provides about $15 per primary school student in sub-
Saharan African education aid. While this seems like a small amount, according to the
Education for All Global Monitoring Report, ―in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, the United
Republic of Tanzania and Zambia, the increase in international aid has facilitated the abolition of
primary school tuition fees, leading to a large expansion of primary school enrolment‖ (Regional
fact sheet – sub-Saharan Africa). Education is often overlooked by poor governments as evident
by sub-Saharan African nation‘s low proportion of education funding. Yet even modest
increases in wealth can improve enrollment rates and in turn lower fertility rates.
Material wealth and desire for a luxurious lifestyle often lowers fertility rates as well.
The developed world shows how wealthy families have fewer children. In nations with full
economic development, population is stagnating if not declining. One reason for this is the high
cost of raising a child. Couples who live in a rich society where college education and richer
amenities are expected end up paying large sums over a child‘s life, ―A survey found that parents
in Britain spend on average $284,343 dollars on each child, including the cost of university‖
(Longman 31-32). In less wealthy societies, children are financially necessary for labor and
senior care and are conceived partly for economic reasons.
Coupled with an increased expectation for childcare spending, industrialized societies
develop a consumer culture that can drive women to enter the work force. Developing China has
undergone huge economic growth in recent decades and their consumption has increased.
According to the Shanghai Daily, ―China's domestic consumption has replaced investment to
become the biggest driver of economic growth for the first time in seven years‖ (Siyan). With
this increase in consumer culture, more women enter the workforce to increase economic wealth
and acquire more products. ―In China female workers make up about nearly 50 per cent of the
enrollment at universities and 36 per cent of the total labor force, according to state media.
Women now contribute about half of household income, up from 20 per cent in the 1950s‖
(Alberts). As seen from China, consumer culture, a result from economic development, can
motivate more women to work. Another example of women‘s employment increase can be seen
in the developing world. Avner Offer, professor of economic history at Oxford University,
illustrates the increase in consumer culture among developed nations:
The goods in question, however dispensable in other cultures, were
truly vital for social participation ... a presentable house in a secure
neighbourhood with access to good schools, was no luxury for
parents. In the thinly settled expanses of suburbia, a car for every
active adult (and often for teenagers too) was a necessity as well.
In the US employment was insecure and access to health cover was
attached to the workplace ... falling out of the race pushed these
necessities out of reach, constituted a serious threat to life chances
and health (James 4).
With this increased expectation for consumer luxuries, women employment rates increased in
developed nations over the last few decades. Economic development not only gives women
greater employment opportunity, but greater material motivation for employment. Once
employed, child bearing becomes less frequent to avoid wage loss.
Finally, a nation‘s governance has strong implications in its population growth.
Democracy is important for women‘s employment and educational rights which are both crucial
factors in birthrates. Democracies, with greater government transparency and citizen
involvement, respond better to poor citizens‘ economic needs. In most cases democracy will
facilitate greater access to female education, healthcare, and employment which as shown above
can lower birth rates. According to the 2002 United Nations Human Development Report:
democracies help spread the word about critical health issues, such
as the negative implications for women of a large number of births,
the benefits of breast feeding and the dangers of unprotected sex in
the context of HIV/AIDS…among countries with similar incomes,
people live longer, fewer children die and women have fewer
children in democratic regimes (Human Development Report 58-
The report suggests that democracy, regardless of incomes, can be a major factor in lowering
birth rates through increased health care and lower infant mortality. While this removes the
relationship between economic development and fertility rates, many political scientists contend
that economic development is necessary for democratic reforms to occur in the first place.
The relationship between economic development and population growth is not direct.
Factors like infant mortality, women‘s education, consumer culture, women‘s employment, and
democratic governance link economic development with decreasing fertility rates. Healthcare
improvements, education increases, and employment opportunities require capital investments;
however, these factors don‘t rely entirely on increases in national prosperity nor do they solely
lower fertility rates. In fact, democracy, with its debatable reliance on economic development,
suggests that demographic changes are possible with out increases in a nation‘s material wealth.
While it is important to study the reasons that link economic improvement with population
decline, detailed analysis into states that have reduced population increase is essential. In the
next section, I will look at two case studies, developed Germany and developing Kerala, to
analyze the extent that economic development influences population growth.
Much of the basis behind economic development‘s link to demographic trends is
attributed to Western industrial nation‘s low fertility rates. It can be easy to claim that
industrialization causes an eventual decline in population by looking straight at demographic
data from developed nations. Looking at a table of total estimated fertility from 2000-2005 for
first world nations, the data can support these trends:
Country Total Estimated Fertility
United Kingdom 1.61
United States 1.93
Source: World Population Prospects (2000).
In all of these high wealth nations, total fertility is below the estimated replacement level of 2.1.
From this data alone, assumptions can be made that fertility is a direct function of economic
wealth. However, a deeper analysis behind low fertility rates in industrialized nations shows that
the inverse relationship between development and fertility is more corollary and not causation.
Germany is an example of a highly developed western nation with low fertility.
Germany‘s fertility rate began to decline in the 1960‘s and has stabilized at the current low levels
(1.29) in the 1970‘s. As discussed earlier, a big factor for Germany‘s fertility decline is from
women obtaining education. Higher education levels delay first child births and thus can lower
fertility. According to the International Journal of Japanese Sociology:
in 2003, childlessness among women aged 40–44 in Western
Germany reached 19.3% of women falling into the lowest
school/career group ‗without certification‘, 30.4% of women in the
higher school/career group ‗less than Bachelor‘, and 32.7% of
women in the highest school/ career group ‗Bachelor‘s degree and
above‘ (Hara 48).
Childless women were far more common among highly educated women than lower educated.
Furthermore, the desired number of children in Germany has dropped over time, ―the desired
number of children among women aged 20–39 in 1988 was 2.15—more than two children—but
in 1992 it went down to 1.75. Since then it has stagnated at 1.74 in 2003 and at 1.75 in 2005‖
(Hara 52). When women were asked why they were childless, the most common response was
related to not having an adequate partner. This is inline with the relationship developed earlier
between higher education and delayed marriages. The second most popular reason was that
children would decrease their quality of life and they are satisfied with their current status (Hara
53). This statement also supports the fact that societies with higher economic development
feature a consumer culture. This consumer culture emphasizes greater individual wealth over
children who can detract from this objective.
In the case of Germany, low fertility rates are a more direct function of cultural factors
like women empowerment, education, consumerism and goals. However, economic
development during the 19th century certainly had a role in changing these cultural views. The
industrial revolution with its output of consumer products and economic wealth brought about
greater female rights to employment, education, wealth, and family planning. Now that female
empowerment has been realized, is it possible to implement such attitudes in other nations with
out full scale economic development? India‘s state Kerala serves as a possible answer.
In 1950 Kerala was a third world disaster. Population growth was highest in India at 44
births per 1000 people. Infant mortality was at 128 deaths per 1000 newborns and Kerala‘s
citizens were destitute and poor (Parayil 942-943). By 1985, the population growth rate
stabilized to a demographic replacement level of 1. By the 1990‘s almost full literacy was
achieved and per capita spending on health care and education is the highest among all the Indian
states (Parayil 944). These dramatic social and demographic advances were achieved through
democratic development and wealth redistribution. Land reform was paramount by eliminating
absentee land lords and returning the land to the tiller. House hold tenants received full
ownership of their dwellings and one tenth of an acre of the house-compound land (Parayil 945).
This redistribution of land from wealthy elite to individual peasants empowered the poor. Kerala
citizens were able to insist on state funded schools and health care that increased quality of life
while lowering infant mortality. Social movements broke down sexism and allowed women
access to education and jobs (Parayil 946). All of these factors contributed to lowering fertility
rates and although life expectancy increased, population growth decreased because birth rates
fell by a larger amount. Given these positive social growths, one might expect a dramatic rise in
GDP; however this was not the case. Kerala‘s GDP experienced only a 2.3% annual increase in
the 1980s and a 5.1% annual increase in the 1990s (Mohindra 8). Compared with other Indian
states, Kerala had a low GDP per capita yet other indicators of development such as Physical
Quality of Life Index (PQLI) and Human Development Index (HDI) rated very highly.
―Anthropologist Richard Franke calculated that, while Kerala had a PQLI of 82 in 1981, the
USA index stood at 96.18 Also, the HDI of Kerala was more than twice the national average.
While the HDI was 0.925 for the USA in 1994, Kerala stood at 0.775, with a per capita income
about one-hundredth of the former‖ (Parayil 944). Kerala shows that the link between economic
development and declining population growth is weak without the more intricate details relating
to women empowerment, infant mortality, and democracy. Further, Kerala suggests that these
detailed reasons can actually be achieved largely independent from pure economic growth.
Kerala developed and achieved greater social wealth while maintaining the environment.
The People's Resource Mapping Program moved into Kerala and mobilized villagers and village
institutions to map resources. When these resource maps were combined with scientific data,
optimal development planning was achieved that preserved resources and ecological integrity.
As a result, Kerala‘s citizens achieved a high quality of life with little harm to their surroundings:
Electricity in Kerala is produced exclusively from small-to-
medium-scale hydroelectric projects. Large scale deforestation did
not take place as a result of these projects. The state government
claims that almost all households (about 2.5 million) in Kerala are
electrified. Energy for cooking comes, mostly, in the form of
bioenergy which is derived from household plots and renewable
marginal forests and hills. Coconut trees provide nearly 30% of
cooking energy in the form of renewable palm fronds, coconut
shells, husks, dried stems and shoots of coconut bunches. Cooking
fuels like bottled gas and electricity are also being used by a
growing segment of the population (Parayil 949-51).
Kerala‘s story is positive and unique for many reasons. Kerala lowered population growth,
increased citizen wealth, and maintained a healthy ecosystem all with out raising GDP per capita.
Instead, reasons for Kerala‘s success are traced too social progress brought about democratically.
Kerala achieved all the goals previously mentioned (lower infant mortality rate, increased
woman literacy, increased woman employment, increased democratic participation) that are
often argued as a result of increased GDP. Instead, Kerala acquired the necessary financial
capital for these social improvements through recycled and redistributed wealth, largely invisible
on a national GDP growth scale. Finally, Kerala‘s development generated few negative effects
to the natural environment.
Critiques of Economic Improvement
Ecological degradation is a main critique of economic development for decreased
population growth. If overpopulation is countered through increasing economic wealth for the
world‘s poorest, then ecological degradation will likely increase. There are many examples
where economic growth occurred at the expense of nature. China has undergone huge economic
growth in the past decades and its impact on the environment has grown likewise; ―from 1978 to
2003 its production of steel, cement, chemical fiber and color TVs increased by 7, 13, 42 and
17,214 times, respectively‖ (Liu, and Diamond 1180). China‘s greenhouse gas emissions are
projected to eclipse all other nations in 2010 even though China‘s energy production is relatively
clean and efficient (Liu, and Diamond 1180). If all third world nations with high population
growth were to pursue economic development to reduce their growth, then environmental
pollution would accelerate.
Nations that have high economic development also use a disproportionate share of the
earth‘s finite resources. A good model to compare land use and development is a nation‘s
ecological footprint. The ecological footprint assesses a nation‘s impact on the environment in
terms of how many hectares of land that nation requires to sustain its socioeconomic system.
The model breaks down land use into 6 categories: built-up land, forest land, fishing ground,
crop land, grazing land and carbon foot print. Land use is standardized world wide into global
hectares to account for regional difference in crop yields, fish yields, etc… According to the
model, the world can support 1.8 global hectares (gha) per person with out drawing down past
built up biocapacity. Currently, the average person consumes about 2.6 gha per year (Ewing,
Goldfinger, Oursler, Reed, and Moore 16). This overshoot is driven primarily by first world
nations with high economic development. The table below shows each nations gha per person.
These are the same nations shown in the previous table with their relevant fertility rates.
Country gha per capita
United Kingdom 6.12
United States 9.02
(Ewing, Goldfinger, Oursler, Reed, and Moore 57)
All these nations that are regarded as having sub replacement level fertility rates also consume
the earth‘s resources at rates greater than the earth can replenish. This simple correlation is not
enough to conclude that nations with low fertility rates will automatically have above capacity
resource consumption; however, it is fair to conclude that increased economic development will
likely increase the global hectares consumed by that developing nation. Economic development
may stop population growth, but it will hurt the overall goal of ecological sustainability.
When first viewing the population growth issue, it is easy to conclude that helping poor
nations grow economically will lower their fertility rates. Yet as shown previously, the reasons
behind decreasing fertility rates are more numerous and specific including infant mortality,
female education, material desire, and democracy. These specific causes of lower fertility rates
require not only economic wealth, but cultural change as well. Women‘s rights are crucial if
economic development will lead to female education and lower infant mortality. At the Sixth
Africa Development Forum in the Ethiopian capital, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose
Migiro said, ―while many African countries have in the past few years experienced positive
economic growth, sadly, there remain glaring disparities between women and men and between
girls and boys‖ (Jere-Malanda 15). Many women in sub-Saharan Africa have no rights to
education, property, family planning, and careers. Even when economic improvement is
achieved, women‘s rights often remain unchanged. Simple economic growth is not enough to
empower women and achieve lower fertility rates. Cultural reforms must occur alongside
Deeper established cultural traditions like religion could make demographic change even
more difficult. Europe has often been cited as having below replacement level fertility rates.
However, the European Muslim fertility rate stands at 3.5, well above the replacement 2.1 level
(Steyn 60). As Europe becomes more Islamic, it is difficult to predict whether the same
socioeconomic factors that lowered traditional European‘s fertility rates will have the same effect
on devout Muslims. Islam promotes larger families and as Islamic culture becomes more
dominant due to current higher fertility rates, it may lead to larger European fertility rates. Yet
looking at current numbers is a misleading picture. Although Islamic fertility rates are higher
than other ethnic groups of similar economic status, they have declined from previous levels in
line with the rest of the world. According to an article in Forbes magazine:
Northern Africa's total fertility rate (births per woman per lifetime)
is only half as high as it was 20 years ago. Iran's has plunged by
two-thirds since Khomeini's 1979 revolution. By the Census
Bureau's reckoning, Tunisia and Lebanon are the first Muslim-
majority countries with sub-replacement fertility--and they will
likely not be the last (Eberstadt 6).
Islamic nations are experiencing fertility rate decline like the rest of the world. Whether this
decline continues to below replacement levels will be determined by Islam‘s resilience to the
secular changes that accompany economic development.
If economic improvement is effective at reducing population increases, the challenges of
achieving economic increase in third world nations are daunting. Particularly in sub-Saharan
Africa where population growth is highest, economic wealth is a long way off. ―Almost 50% of
the population lives on under one dollar a day - the highest rate of extreme poverty in the world.
Thirty-two of the 48 poorest countries are located in this region, which is plagued by conflicts,
lack of functional governments, and terrible diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria‖ (sub-
Saharan Africa). Sub-Saharan Africa shows little hope for rapid improvement. In fact, sub-
Saharan Africa is one of the few regions that is not making progress on the Millennium
Development Goals (MDG). Set up in 2000 by the UN, these goals were designed to rate the
progress of poor nations toward improving national nutrition, education, infant mortality,
maternal health, and disease prevention. These factors have digressed in the region and the
number of impoverished people has doubled since 1981 (sub-Saharan Africa). This is bad news
for global population decline since many of the factors in the MDG are directly related to lower
fertility rates. Developing economies in the world‘s fastest growing region is certainly a gross
A final critique involves whether population decline is the result of economic growth or
rather the cause. Much of the data found and presented shows correlative relationships between
factors related to economic growth and lowering fertility rates. When substantiated with analysis
and expert opinions, causation relationships can be argued but never proved. Definitive
conclusions require controlled studies over long time periods where only one variable is varied.
However, these types of studies are extremely difficult if not impossible concerning
demographic research since demographic changes depend on a myriad of uncontrollable
Given the inconclusiveness of studies, some contend that economic development is a
result of population decline. A study conducted in China examined how lower birth rates
affected economic growth measured in GDP. During the sampling time for the experiment,
China‘s one child policy only applied to the majority ethnicity, Han Chinese. Minority groups,
such as Tibetans, were exempt and thus had larger birth rates (Li, and Zhang 110-111). This
provided a good comparison since the researchers were able to compare economic development
in largely minority regions with high birth rates vs. largely Han Chinese regions with lower birth
rates. The study concluded that economic development increased as birth rates decreased. ―In
the sample period (1978–1998), China‘s birth rate decreased by 1 out of 1,000 every five years,
which implies an increase of the annual per capita GDP growth rate by 0.9 percentage points,17
or about 11% of the annual growth rate of 8.1% that China‘s provinces achieved in the sample
period‖ (Li, and Zhang 114). The study was able to control other variables affecting economic
growth and show that birth rate decline led directly to economic growth.
Conclusions and Recommendations
A first look at worldwide demographic data can conclude that birth rates are dependent
on per capita GDP and lowering population growth requires economic development. This claim
has merits, but is far too simplistic. The specific reasons behind population decline are more
varied and direct including, infant mortality, woman education, woman employment, material
culture, and democratic reforms. These factors have some dependency on wealth since they
require improvements in school buildings, healthcare facilities, job creation, and individual
purchasing power. However, economic growth is no guarantee that the benefits will positively
affect the fertility rate factors listed. Cultural values and governance play large roles. In
Germany, where fertility rates are remarkably low, cultural factors like women‘s rights,
education, and material desires ensure low fertility rates. In Kerala wealth was redistributed to
gain the necessary capital for social improvements. Economic development can lower
population growth, but only indirectly. Improving women‘s health, education, and opportunities
is the direct way to stop excessive population growth.
Economic development‘s indirect effect on demography is an important subject for world
leaders to understand. Overpopulation threatens our fragile ecosystem and will create numerous
challenges in the coming decades. To slow population growth, first world nations must focus
their efforts at poor nations where population growth is most pronounced. Yet, undirected
economic improvement in third world nations won‘t necessarily achieve population decline.
Further, unbridled economic growth will bankrupt our world of its resource stock and pollute the
environment into violent change. First world nations have the responsibility of sharing their
access wealth with poor nations to avoid further resource depletion. Capital investments in third
world schools, healthcare, jobs and infrastructure are needed to decrease fertility rates. These
decreased rates will only be achieved if women are allowed equal access to economic
development and afforded equal rights. This will take outside political influence to foster
democracy and women‘s rights world wide. In order to achieve sustainable population growth,
cultural changes must be emphasized along side economic development.
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