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2.1 Population policies

In Week 2 you looked at some of the pro-natalist and anti-natalist population policies, some of which have been continued into this century. These policies have had some positive, negative and even unintended consequences.

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Figure 3

The effectiveness of population policies on fertility rates is difficult to assess, however. There is a timeframe problem – how long should you give population policies before you can make a judgement about their effectiveness?

There is a commitment problem, as in many cases countries put together a patchwork of measures that are ‘family friendly’ (as they are called in the UK), but these can be unreliable, increased or decreased according to prevailing economic conditions (Gauthier, 2013).

There is a variables problem – how do you disaggregate the effects of population policies from broader social policies such as women’s education and empowerment which may be happening simultaneously? And there have been some unintended consequences amounting to serious human rights abuses, as you will have realised when you read about ‘the missing girls’ in Week 2.

So far, population studies have been unable to offer a reliable scientific method of predicting significant shifts in population. Even looking at clear patterns that already exist, such as the plunge in fertility in Europe, little can be confidently predicted. There is no reason to believe, for example, that Europe has reached the bottom of the decline in fertility. There is no generally accepted theory, or comprehensive causal explanation of long-term decline in fertility rates. The closest we have to an accepted theory of a world population pattern is the ‘demographic transition’ that you learnt about earlier in the course (Week 2).