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Poverty Reduction: An Effective Means of Population Control

Poverty Reduction: An Effective Means of Population Control

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Published by The Wilson Center
Rachel Nugent reviews Poverty Reduction: An Effective Means of Population Control, by Mohammed Sharif.
Rachel Nugent reviews Poverty Reduction: An Effective Means of Population Control, by Mohammed Sharif.

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Published by: The Wilson Center on Sep 05, 2012
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ECSp rEport
iSSuE 13
2008–2009
120
light o recent strides, interdisciplinary collabo
-
ration remains a challenge.Climate change has emerged as the topic
du  jour 
,andhumanpopulationandland-useinter-actionsarebothmajorcausesofgreenhousegasesandviableavenuesfortheirreduction.Atatime
 when urbanization and aging have replaced ruralpopulation growth and youthul population
structuresasthemost-discusseddemographic
trends o the new millennium, the demands o rural population change and urban consump
-
tion on rural systems remain the primary driv 
-ersofland-usechange.Asresearchagendasshift
towards climate change, human vulnerability,urbanization, and aging, the conversion o oreststo agriculture by rural people still leaves the larg 
-
est human ootprint on the Earth’s surace, with
consequencesbothinjuriousandbenevolent.Theimprovedunderstandingoftheconnection
between human activity and environmental con
-
cerns demonstrated in
Population, Land Use, and the Environment,
 which synthesizes more than a 
decadeofpopulation-landuseresearch,isboth
exciting and daunting.Population policy in developing countrieshas long been a controversial topic, not leastbecause the vast amount o research devoted tounderstanding the key determinants o ertility behavior has been inconclusive. In addition,because population raises sensitive and ideo
-
logical issues, population policy has been mired
inpoliticaldebates.Thecombinationofslow
progress in both the research and policy sphereson the role o population growth in develop
-
ment, and what governments should do toinuence that growth, has pushed this crucialtopic to the sidelines o most o the importantdevelopment discussions o our day.Fertility decisions are driven by a compli
-
cated set o social, economic, cultural, andtechnological conditions that are difcult tosort out. Government policy may be a minorinuence on the ertility component o popula 
-
tion growth, but in some places and times it canbe an important agent o change, even simply by changing decisions at the margin. However,it is not easy to measure the impact o govern
-
ment policy—or any other actors—on ertility.
Therefore,researchhasbeensometimescontra-
dictory, sometimes inconclusive, and the stron
-gestresultsarehighlysite-andprogram-specic(see,e.g.,Robinson&Ross,2007;Schultz,1997).In
Poverty Reduction: An Effective Means of Population Control,
Mohammed Shari attempts to use both theoretical and empiri
-
cal analysis to take a resh look at the topic.Unortunately, the book is contradictory andinconclusive—and certainly not resh.Until very recently, policy advocates andresearchers seemed to agree that high rates o 
Rachel Nugent
s depty decto of teCente fo global Development’s globalhealt Poams. Se as 25 yeas of expe-ence as a development economst wt tePoplaton refeence Bea, te Foatyintenatonal Cente of te u.S. Natonalinstttes of healt, and te uN Food andAclte Oanzaton, amon otes.
Poverty Reduction: An Effective Means ofPopulation Control
By Mohammed Sharif  London: Ashgate, 2007. 184 pages.
Reviewed by RACHEL NUGENT
 
EnvironmEntal ChangE and SECurity program
121
population growth adversely aect developmentand poverty, and that amily planning policiesare important tools o development assistance.
Recently,however,attentiontointernational
population issues has declined alarmingly,stemming rom a combination o complacency (due to lower population growth in some coun
-
tries) and a paucity o eective tools to meet theongoing twin challenges o poverty reduction
andfertilityreduction(Clelandetal.,2006;Gwatkin,Wagstaff,&Yazbeck,2004).
 While ertility has declined in many develop
-
ing countries, and most o the developed worldis experiencing stagnant or declining popula 
-
tions, the “population problem” is not solved.In 16 developing countries, total ertility rates
exceed6.0,andlowcontraceptiveprevalenceisamajorbarriertodevelopment(PRB,2008).Fifty-vecountrieshavefertilityratesof4.0
and higher. Depending on death rates in thosecountries, this implies their populations will
doublein17yearsorless.Finally,intheseand
other developing countries, the highest ertil
-
ity rates are generally ound among the poorest
fthofthepopulation.Thus,thequestionof
population growth and its relationship to pov 
-
erty is not inconsequential, leaving substantialroom or debate about appropriate policies.Mohammed Shari’s book takes us back to
anearliertimebyre-openingthedebateabout
 whether amily planning is good or poor ami
-
lies. Shari’s main arguments are that high er
-
tility is a rational, oten benefcial choice orpoor amilies; and that poverty makes a highernumber o children desirable. He concludesthat only reductions in poverty will bring downertility rates among the poor. Shari examinesthese assertions empirically, and then derivespolicy implications rom the results.
Researchersonthistopichavealwaysfaced
the challenge o demonstrating a direct causalrelationship between poverty and ertility.Many correlates o poverty are also associated with high ertility rates. How do we know  what causes what? Shari devotes much o 
hisbooktocross-countryregressionanalysis
intended to demonstrate that poor people may be acting rationally in choosing large ami
-
lies. Unortunately, the analysis presented islargely undermined by the ailure o his data and methodology to adequately answer “whatcauses what?”Shari compiled data on poverty and related
variablesfor83developingcountriesfromvari-
ous UN sources to test multiple specifcationso his model. With countries as the unit o anal
-
ysis, he fnds that high ertility is not a cause o poverty, and illiteracy is not causally related tocontraceptive prevalence. Shari concludes that
thefertilitychoicesofpoordeveloping-country
citizens are rational, and argues by implicationthat international amily planning advocateshave ailed because they have not understood
poorfamilies’choicesanddecision-making
processes. Hal o Shari’s message is certainly 
right:Poorpeoplearerational.Buttheyare
also extremely constrained in their choices,
accesstoinformation,andtimehorizons.Asa
result, their choices may not be optimal—orthemselves or society. Shari does not explorethis possibility, and thereore the book does notadvance our knowledge o what policies wouldbe useul in reducing these constraints.Setting aside the book’s polemics attacking international amily planning advocates, Sharis
cross-countryanalysisofthedeterminantsof
poverty suers rom measurement and econo
-
metric issues—not the least o which is theproblem o intervening variables. No reasonableperson doubts that poverty aects childbearing decisions in a household, and that numbers o children aect a household’s likelihood o being impoverished—but many other variables inter
-veneaswell.Researchershavespentyearstrying
to speciy models in which ertility choice canbe isolated rom the variables that determine
it.YetSharifcitesalmostnoneofthevolumi-
nous empirical and methodological literature in
thisarea(e.g.,Birdsalletal.,2001;Eastwood&Lipton,1999;Schultz,2005;Livi-Bacci&DeSantis,2004;Oxford,1994).Andsomeof
his results are anomalous; or example, he fndsthat—in addition to ertility—urbanizationand illiteracy have no eect on poverty.It is difcult to compare Shari’s data andresults with other studies. For his preliminary 
the highes
fetlty ates aeeneally fond
among hepoores fifh of 
te poplaton.

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