demography: two things i remember from class and one thing i managed to remember from a book

sometimes memory devices and catch phrases work for me, like remembering how to set a table, how to spell encyclopedia, and how many ounces are in a pint (and a pound, incidentally). sometimes, they do not, as evidenced by the fact that i only remember the demonic halves of the demonic mnemonics for the cranial nerves and the bones of the wrist.

this might explain why i remember approximately two things from my first demography class (with Dr. Ron Lesthaeghe, who did everything in his power to teach me more than two things and deserves no blame for what i say here! (he has, however, approved it!)). since it seems like population & fertility management are back in the conversation (Rio+20, Gates, Sachs, & Blattsman, among others), perhaps phrases stuck in my brain will lodge in someone else’s as well and be of use.

  • thanks to some intense demography study sessions and the need to consolidate a lot of information, a few friends and i were finally able to develop and remember the following: “pope, no pants, no progeny.” this helped us to remember that, in France, where we saw the first large-scale fertility declines in the world around the time of the French Revolution and its reverberations in the 1800s, it was those landless farmers who were working on Church lands (that is, pope; Protestants were more likely to be small shareholders), that moved to the cities (‘no pants’ is a very literal interpretation of sans culottes – ‘no fancy pants’ may be slightly more accurate), and tended to have fewer children. thus, the fertility transition was not driven so much by mortality decline or development per se but a variety of SES conditions, often following religious, cultural, and linguistic lines.
  • Prof Lesthaeghe, building on the work of Coale, hammered home that the adoption of new (fertility) behavior requires being simultaneously ready, willing, and able to do so.
    • readiness broadly refers to economic and normative factors, such as ideas about family size; the balance of the costs and benefits of having (a certain number of) children in light of the child mortality rate; schooling laws (among other things); and issues related to female schooling and their opportunities for employment with reasonable returns to education.
    • willingness broadly refers to norms about using contraception and interfering with ‘nature’
    • ability’ refers to the knowledge and availability of means to control fertility, including accessibility, acceptability, affordability – gracious, I do like alliteration!
  • occasionally I manage to read a book. thanks to Matthew Connelley, among others, for pointing out that the former Indian minister of health and family planning Karan Singh not only said that “development is the best  contraceptive” at the Bucharest conference in 1974 but has also publicly mused as to whether the maxim should have been “contraception is the best development.” my guess is that he is right/wrong either way, since causality almost certainly runs both ways.

my own rough take is that development may well be the best motivator to change desires about completed family size, the right time to begin a family, and contraception use… but the contraception needs to be available and accessible for that to work. so, in each context, we need to assess the readiness, willingness, & ability factors that are preventing fertility decline (or pushing it down too far! looking at you italy) to determine what needs to be done to help women and families want to and achieve more control over their fertility and tailor the response accordingly. implying that one approach will work is almost certainly too simplistic. and, child mortality and female empowerment are critical parts of this conversation and potential points for intervention.

*thanks to john to spurring me to write this. he has learned my weaknesses. obviously, a big thanks to professor lesthaeghe for putting complicated ideas into phrases that even i can remember. and thanks to ellen, molly, & emily for trying to teach me osteology and for studying demography with me, respectively.

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