The Scientific Debate: Is Population Growth a Problem?

Magazine: Harvard International Review
Issue: Fall 1994
Title: Population

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The Scientific Debate: Is Population Growth a Problem?
by Nathan Keyfitz

Population is a divisive issue. Supporters can be found in the community of biologists and economists for the position that population growth is not a problem and for the opposite position that it is. Some sources of disagreement are the difficulties in placing population data into theoretical models, in locating positive and negative consequences of rapid population expansion, and the technical differences between the biological and the economic method of analysis. The preponderance of data and opinions suggest that population growth is a significant problem that deserves attention.

Vicious Circles: African Demographic History as a Warning
Timothy C. Weiskel

Tracing the history of various explanations for population growth yields the conclusion population growth is a bio-social problem embedded in the particular history and culture of a society. The African example of population growth shows how no single causal factor, but rather a set of forces in Africa's colonial history have driven population growth. When considered in the broader context of Africa's relation to the global economy and global patterns of urbanization, Africa's population growth demonstrates how comprehensive and cumulative understanding of population is necessary for effective solutions.

The Quality of Life: Making Investments in Human Development
Adrienne Germain

Provision of reproductive health services to women has been an issue of debate. Family planning has been the major tool of population policy, but a new vision should focus on inclusive, participatory policies to ensure health services, empowerment and individual rights. These are important for the advancement of women, which itself is an importance goal, and will in turn contribute to population stabilization. Such a new approach that stresses investment in people through investment in reproductive health, however, will require a qualitative shift in state actions.

The Philosopher's Stone: Contraception and Family Planning
Malcolm Potts and Martha Campbell

Since empirical evidence suggests that family size is dependent on the options people have, the fundamental challenge to family planning policy is to remove barriers that separate desirable options from needed technologies. These barriers include the influence of the Vatican and traditional male-centered society, as well as inefficient and poorly-designed government programs. Additionally, the flawed contraceptives market, and ignorance or misinformation about contraceptives are contributing barriers. Finally, the cost of family planning, though minimal compared to other global expenditures, has constrained women's options.

The Legal Approach: Women's Rights as Human Rights
Rachael N. Pine

International scholars are increasingly agreeing that international law maintains the right to reproductive health care, including access to information about sexuality, reproduction, and family planning, and to contraception, abortion, and basic gynecological health care. Beyond the universal right to reproductive freedom, domestic laws must be structured to ensure the ability of women to freely make reproductive choices. By promoting the legal, medical, social and economic conditions that empower women, states can make reproductive choice a reality.

More Than Words: USAID's Approach to the Population Problem
J. Brian Atwood

USAID's priorities include global population stabilization and protecting human health, as well other strategic goals: promoting democracy, fostering broad-based economic growth and protecting the environment. USAID's strategy is guided by voluntarism and respect for human rights. Support for family planning will continue to be the centerpiece of USAID's population and health policy; USAID funding may not under existing law be used for abortion. USAID will continue to address the challenge of remaining responsive to end-users. These issues and others will be debated at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

One Family, One Child: Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities
Peng Peiyun

China's "one couple, one child" family planning policy has been supported by a series of wide-ranging policies that include education, improvement of contraceptive technology and access to family planning services, the use of incentives and disincentives, and attempts to create a socio-economic environment that facilitates family planning. These policies have met dramatic success, despite the ardor of the task. And despite other difficulties, such as the non-uniformity of success, and the decline in fertility, China will forge on with its population policies to contribute to the future peace and prosperity of the world.

Part of the Solution: The World Bank and Population Issues
Janet de Merode

The population problem must be addressed in its broader social context of poverty reduction and socio-economic development. The World Bank's program of support includes financial assistance through loans and through education assistance. It recommends a three-fold approach to population stabilization: resource mobilization to meet the demands of family planning, reduction of infant and maternal mortality, and ensuring women's access to educational opportunities.

Go Back to Shy David's Over-Population Page.