Fertility

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This week’s readings discuss fertility trends in populations. Fertility is acknowledged as being effected by various factors such as socioeconomic levels, political issues (conflict, views of government leaders toward childbirth and population growth) and as Bryant mentions, “the diffusion of new ideas”. Cross national data has indicated the relationship between fertility and these various indicators. More specifically, the focus has been on the relationship between changes in both social and economic conditions that serve as a vehicle to give couples the opportunity to benefit from incentives related to limiting fertility. Scholars have varying views as to the source of fertility decline. There is disagreement as to the importance of the factors that shape fertility decline. As a result, the discussion focuses on propositions related to fertility decline that have generally been endorsed historically. Bryant doubts the accuracy of these propositions. He uses the example of poor countries (such as North Vietnam and Bangladesh) and mentions that the incentives for fertility decline were irrespective of country score. Bryant goes on to make a key point that “The development indicators published by statistical agencies do not directly measure the social and economic changes that are depicted by sophisticated socioeconomic theories of fertility decline”. He discusses the limits of tests of socioeconomic theories as well. The need to explain the reason for fertility decline is important in order to show the effects of fertility decline on populations.
When we discuss fertility, we can also discuss contraception/birth control and the various areas of life that comprise our choice and also the options that we have to choose from. When Africa is discussed (specifically sub-Saharan Africa), the emphasis is placed on its high rates of fertility. It is rarely discussed as to what contraception options are available to its citizens. There are a number of areas (socioeconomic, cultural, and political) that effect fertility rates in an impactful manner. Poston and Bouvier highlight the fertility rates of various populations (Africa, Sweden, and The United States) and the wide range of opinions related to fertility choice. Fertility options are limited when the individual is not responsible for their choices and instead that role has been put in the hands of government. This could be one indication as to the fertility rates of Africa, India, and China. These are populations that have different government policies related to fertility choice. Culture also impacts fertility choice. If it is considered the norm for a woman of child bearing age to have as many children as she is biologically allowed, then women will be less likely to choose contraception. Fertility also has an impact on the demographic transition that a population experiences. Contraception and family planning are activities that many participants are actively involved in (despite what is often mentioned in the media).
One factor that is continually discussed includes the impact of socioeconomics on fertility decline. There is historical data that provides insight into fertility rates and causes for concern in various populations (sub-Saharan Africa, Sweden). These areas with extreme high/low rates of fertility are still impacting current fertility rates throughout the world. In areas of low socioeconomic capital, women have more time to have children and also to be the primary active caregiver for their children. In areas of high socioeconomic capital, more women are working and if they have children find that they have to work more in order to provide for their children due to the time taken out of the workforce when they were pregnant. Poston and Kirk also include the relationship between religious tradition and fertility levels specifically when discussing contraception choices and ultimate use of contraception. Fertility choice just like religious participation is a very personal decision. If a population follows the tenets of a particular faith and that faith encourages child bearing, it is considered a duty to have multiple children. Individual and relational motivation is also linked to contraception choice and use in relation to the impact of fertility decline. The transmittance of information related to fertility and contraception options are also mentioned. Individuals receive fertility and contraception information through a number of different outlets. Unfortunately these outlets may not always provide correct or informed information. As a result, individuals may have an abundance of fertility information that is not effective in the long run. This is one reason why public health and education programs seek to educate young people about birth control and pregnancy in order to give them a better picture of what their choices can result in if they are not fully prepared.
The current state of fertility and contraception used around the world are ultimately connected. Populations receive more information related to fertility choice than they had historically. African countries are mentioned specifically related to the increase in replacement level rates. The impact of international movements on fertility decline is also mentioned. The limitations of transition theory are also mentioned. Even though there are general areas of agreement regarding the determinants of fertility and contraception, it is acknowledged that there is still a search for new insight as to what factors combine to create realistic, new pathways for future research and discussion that will benefit populations. Bryant offers evidence to show the strength of the relationship between fertility and the aforementioned determinants. He also discusses over prediction when we look at the fertility rates of Asian countries. Diffusion is mentioned when looking at African countries. Bongaarts work is lauded and shown as evidence of the transitory shift. There is a need to provide a substantial explanation to stakeholders.
There was a large amount of criticism around The European Fertility Project due to the methods used and the areas that the researchers chose to focus on. When discussing historical trends, fertility increases are viewed as occurring in spite of the political climate of a specific term. The European Fertility Project is criticized for weakness in measurements. This gives insight into methods of future research and how research is driven in order to benefit populations and also benefit the global conversation as a whole.
An emphasis is placed on the individual in the discussion of fertility outcomes. The difficulty related to the causality of one determinant over another (economic versus other aspects of culture). Bryant mentions the application of the transition model theory. The relationship between theory and what occurs in daily life is also addressed. This would indicate a need to blend historical research methods/outcomes with live experiences in the field.
Caldwell addresses the rationality of fertility in relation to social expectations. Westernization has also had a large impact on the implementation of fertility programs around the world and how the discussion of fertility is framed. When we discuss the rationality of fertility, if we are looking at individual decision making from a Western lens, other cultures’ fertility choices will seem irrational at times. Thornton introduces the effect of developmental idealism on fertility rates and the implications for the future. The role that developmental idealism plays out in various populations is also looked at around the world. The differences in the impact of developmental idealism on Western and non-Western populations is also discussed as it relates to dynamic and ever evolving populations.
Included in the discussion of determinants of fertility is the role of gender equality on fertility decline and contraceptive choice. McDonald illustrates that an increase in gender equity will lead to changes in fertility rates. This also requires new models to be created and implemented in order to measure levels of gender equality. It is also mentioned that focus needs to shift from the period at the beginning of decline to the period after decline in order to show a clearer picture of gender equality levels.
The influence of wealthier societies on public policy and a discussion of the greater good is also alluded to. The need for further research is also mentioned in order to increase awareness of determinants and gain insight into elements that are shown to impact population fertility rates overall. Looking back at the issues demographers faced in the 1960’s shows that those still concerns are just as relevant today. Lam mentions world food production and poverty which were major concerns in the 1960’s. Today world food production is still cause for concern in relation to the health of populations (going green, reducing the use of antibiotics in food, the impact of GMO’s in the world food system). These issues are important because they effect all areas of our lives and if concern is only shown for wealthier nations and the expense of poorer ones, our future population growth and fertility rates will be impacted. We are looking for how to answer the questions related to the known challenges to population growth that arise and also how to be a force to impact populations positively.
In conclusion, there are a number of determinants that will continue to impact fertility rates in populations. As a result, the changes that need to be made to these determinants in order to benefit populations, if not addressed in a sustainable manner will have negative effects on populations overall. The areas that we consider important to fertility rates today will influence the fertility policy of the future. As a result, it is important to include everyone in the conversation because fertility effects the lives of us all.

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