Sex Matters

Low birthrates aren't the result of economic growth and political stability; they're a prerequisite.

584593_090621_pn-sexmatters12.jpg
584593_090621_pn-sexmatters12.jpg

There is a well-known story about how a society stabilizes its population. As a country transitions from poverty to affluence, birthrates plunge—from six or eight children per woman to just about two. Population growth levels off. Prosperity and education, the story goes, are just about the best form of birth control there is. But this tale gets it backward. Low birthrates aren’t a consequence of national wealth; rather, they’re needed to create it. Soaring unemployment, endemic poverty, and flailing schools are quite simply impossible to combat when every year adds more and more people.

There is a well-known story about how a society stabilizes its population. As a country transitions from poverty to affluence, birthrates plunge—from six or eight children per woman to just about two. Population growth levels off. Prosperity and education, the story goes, are just about the best form of birth control there is. But this tale gets it backward. Low birthrates aren’t a consequence of national wealth; rather, they’re needed to create it. Soaring unemployment, endemic poverty, and flailing schools are quite simply impossible to combat when every year adds more and more people.

Malcolm Potts is Bixby professor at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Martha Campbell is president of Venture Strategies for Health and Development and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.

More from Foreign Policy

Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.
Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.

Stop Falling for Russia’s Delusions of Perpetual Victory

The best sources on the war are the Ukrainians on the ground.

A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia
A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia

Could Sabotage Stop Putin From Using the Nuclear Option?

If the West is behind mysterious fires in Russia, the ongoing—but deniable—threat could deter Putin from escalating.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.

While America Slept, China Became Indispensable

Washington has long ignored much of the world. Beijing hasn’t.

A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation
A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation

The World Ignored Russia’s Delusions. It Shouldn’t Make the Same Mistake With India.

Hindu nationalist ideologues in New Delhi are flirting with a dangerous revisionist history of South Asia.