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False Premises of Population Control

It is impossible to give a precise figure for how much money is spent annually world-wide on population control. USAID alone has spent roughly $4 billion in the last 20 years on birth control programs overseas. Every major government of the world has a population control budget. In addition, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) dedicate portions of their budgets to population control, or make lending conditional to the implementation of population control programs by borrowing nations. Presumably, the distribution of such vast sums of money for population control has a desired end in mind that stems from sound judgment and reasonable principles.

But a careful examination of the facts reveals that population control activity is based on insecure premises. Decline in fertility rates is much more an effect of coercion than a free expression of “choice.” And aggressive “family planning” programs have long-term social and economic consequences.


A review of past and current demographic patterns reveals little reason to conclude that family planning programs cause major changes in fertility. Without a shift in parental desires, any shift in the fertility rate depends upon coercive measures. Many nations routinely violate the rights of women in the name of family planning. China’s family planning program is perhaps the world’s most infamous, consists of a one-child policy, targets and quotas, and forced abortion and sterilization. But China is not alone. Similar abuses are common in many other nations.

  • India has resorted repeatedly to forced sterilization of women and men to achieve population targets. In 1999, USAID gave $2.34 million to India for population control at the expense of food programs. Malnutrition is high among the lower castes, but USAID spent a relatively small amount for food: $5 million.1
  • Vietnam is rife with abuses similar to those found in China’s one-child policy which it has used as a model. The Vietnamese program dictates the maximum number of children allowed; the minimum age of child bearing; the minimum years between children, and mandates the use of contraception. In addition, women have been forcibly sterilized, sterilized without fully informed consent, or under threat of withholding food and for medical assistance.
  • Peru, Costa Rica and Venezuela have recently conducted or are still conducting sterilization campaigns undertaken in inadequate conditions and according to government quotas. In some cases, women have been taken by outright force to clinics for sterilization.

Contraception and Fertility

Demographic studies show that there is statistically no significant effect of contraceptive prevalence on fertility rates.2 In other words, there is no positive statistical relation between increased contraceptive use and lower rates of fertility. Fertility rates can differ by a factor of almost three, from one country to the next, when the reported prevalence of modern contraceptive use is virtually the same.3

The family planning programs aggressively promoted by the Mexican government since the 1970’s bears out this fact. Mexico’s total fertility rate (TFR} has dropped by 2.5 since the 1970’s. Brazil. by contrast, has never had a national family planning program. Yet Brazil’s TFR fell by almost exactly the same amount over the same period.4 Survey results from country after country in Asia, Africa and Latin America consistently demonstrate that parents throughout the developing world have pronounced views about their own desired family size. As the documented facts bear, parents’ own desired family size is the best indicator of their country’s TFR.5

According to a recent World Bank study, contraceptive use amounts for only 5 percent of the differences in fertility rates across various countries.6 In addition, the number of unwanted births actually increases with contraceptive prevalence,7 raising rates of abortion as a routine back-up to unwanted pregnancies and shattering the “contraception reduces abortion” myth.

Death Tolls Rising

Today we are witnessing a sad reversal of the gains in health and longevity that marked the 20th century.

According to the US Census Bureau, an alarming interruption in increased average life span occurred in many countries in the early 1980s.8 In Sub-Saharan nations, mortality is rising because of HIV / AIDS related deaths often caused by promiscuity.

Yet worldwide population control budgets continue to increase. Malaria kills 2.7 million people each year, one person every 12 seconds. Forty percent of the world’s population is at risk. Its causes and treatment have been well-known for 100 years. Only $85 million annually is spent on fighting malaria worldwide.9 But USAID spent over $180 million between 1997 and 1998 for population control in Asia alone.10

UNFPA Sophistry

The UNFPA claims that a $25 million cut in its family planning budget would result in the deaths of 5,150 women from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. This same amount of money, however, turned to addressing the following health needs would have far greater effects in assuring maternal and infant health and well-being. Consider the following:

  • Maternal tetanus immunizations would save the lives of 198,400 African mothers and babies, 40 times more than $25 million on contraception spent by UNFPA.
  • Breastfeeding promotion would save the lives of 50,000 infants, nine times more than $25 million spent on contraception by UNFPA.
  • Attending births reduces maternal mortality by 15 deaths per 100,000; and infant mortality by 85 deaths per 100,000. In some African countries, only 15 percent of all births are attended. Twenty-five million dollars spent on providing mothers with assistance in childbirth would save the lives of 7,500 mothers, and 42,500 infants. Again, nine times more lives saved than $25 million spent by UNFPA on contraception.11

According to UN estimates, the world’s population will never double again. Yet the UNFPA continually draws upon the highest and least accurate projections to determine and attempt to justify their activities worldwide. This year, for the first time in history, people over 60 worldwide will outnumber children 14 or younger in industrial countries. The aging of the world’s population will lead to a greater reliance upon fewer, younger workers to support the elderly. The developed world is already hard-pressed to save Social Security, and parts of the US have been struck with depopulation.12 The US is experiencing a steady graying of its overall population.

The picture for the world is not much different. According to the UN Population Division’s 1998 revision, the current world Total Fertility Rate is 2.31 children per woman, just above replacement. Given high infant mortality rates in many parts of the world, the replacement fertility is about 2.2 children per woman, a figure that will be reached by 2005. For all practical purposes, then, the world is currently at zero population growth. Should current trends continue, the TFR will fall to a little over one child per woman by the end of the next century. At this anemic birthrate the world’s population will be cut in half in each generation.

With birthrates dropping worldwide, labor resources will dwindle. The economic consequences of depopulation will follow. As economist Peter Drucker argues, labor resources are necessary to assure economic stability and prosperity in any country.13 In many nations throughout the world, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the shrinking population of workers to sustain an ever-growing number of retirees. The cause of this is overly aggressive family planning programs which violate the rights of women, which in turn create long-term social and economic instability.

China is the prime example. The millstone of below-replacement fertility is already around its neck. China also earned the epitaph of being the oldest country in the developing world.14 By 2050, the number of workers in China will be equal to the number of those too old to work.15

Just the Facts…

Looking at the facts, it becomes clear that money and effort spent in population control not only fail to achieve personal and societal good, but result in aborted economic development, stagnating social growth, and dying populations in country after country. The result is countless violations of human rights, and untold human tragedies. History shows that the “arguments” for population control are in fact no arguments at all, but sophistical manipulation of the facts. Only once we have stopped manipulating the facts, and accepted them as the basis for how we address the needs and problems of the world, can we succeed in creating social and economic models that respect the dignity of our greatest resource: the human person.


1 PRI, Map of Shame,

2 L. Pritchett, “Desired Fertility and the Impact of Population Policies,” Population and Development Review, March 1994, 13.

3 Nicholas Eberstadt, “The Demographic Impact on Population Policies,” The Washington Quarterly, Spring, 1998, 46.

4 Eberstadt, 47.

5 Eberstadt, 46.

6 Prichett, 2–3, 12.

7 Prichett, 14.

8 US Census Bureau, “World Population Profile (1996),” 11.

9 “Malaria: avoidable catastrophe?” Nature, 10, April 1997.

10 PRI, Map of Shame.

11 See: “Saving the Lives of Mothers, Babies: A Demonstration,” in PRI’s Policy backgrounder, “Money for Nothing…” 2 April 1999, 6–7;

12 PRI’s Weekly Briefing, “Depopulation Strikes New England,” 16 December 1999.

13 Peter Drucker, “The Future that has already Happened,” Harvard Business Review, September-October, 1997, 4–6.

14 Economist, “The Aging of China,” 21 Nov. 1998.

15 Economist, “Working for the Retired,” 21 Nov. 1998.

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