A Misunderstanding about overpopulation
COPYRIGHT 2002 Worldwatch Institute
I am responding to the letter in the July/August 2002 issue by Mr. William Dickinson. Like many people concerned about overpopulation, Mr. Dickinson seems to be unaware that the single best predictor of a woman's fertility is education.
It wasn't just that "fertility fell as Europeans became richer," it was that fertility fell as women were getting an education, joining the work force, and finding many other ways to feel valuable. The same happened in the United States. As women begin to value themselves for something other than their ability to have children, they voluntarily limit the number of children they have.
In every country where women are educated on an equal par with men, the birth rate has dropped. One of the enduring effects of patriarchy in the so-called "third world" is that women are still vastly undereducated, and their whole social milieu teaches them that having children, the more the better, is what they must do to gain respect, or, more vaguely, what society expects of them. Muslim countries are particularly hard for women.
Dickinson cites figures for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, without noting that educational opportunities for women are practically non-existent in both countries, except in the very small upper classes, because of age-old prejudice. The same could be said of India, though there are already feminist forces at work there, and the state of Kerala has had a stable birth rate for decades, largely because of its high literacy rate for both women and men.
The projections of population explosions are all based on a continuation of the pattern of gender bias, which degrades women to mere breeder status. But the pattern is changing, worldwide, and just needs some help in some places. If you want to work for a drop in the population rate, work for literacy and education for women. If literacy is low for men, then work for education for everyone. The women will teach their children, and will become more fully contributing members of their community, and the birth rate will drop as the women learn to manage their own lives better, to take paying jobs or start businesses, and to do other things besides have babies.
The world needs this to happen, but there are places in the world where education for women needs a jump start. Stop bemoaning the overpopulation problem and do the one effective thing to make a difference. It is so radical. Just teach women to read.
[Note: About 50 years ago Kerala made a commitment to democratic socialism and equal opportunity for women. Through redistribution of wealth, they have achieved a high average standard of living with low consumption, and low birth rates. - Sandi)