Evoluationary demographic transition theory


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Evoluationary demographic transition theory comparative causes of prehistoric, historic and modern demographic transitions
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vi, 142 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Iverson, Shepherd
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Subjects / Keywords:
Demography -- History   ( lcsh )
Fertility, Human -- History   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1992.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 120-141).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Shepherd Iverson.
General Note:
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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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notis - AJU5040
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I wish to thank my Ph.D committee: Drs. H. Russell Bernard, Ronald Cohen, Abe

Goldman, Tim Hackenberg and Marvin Harris. I extend my appreciation to Dr. Goldman

(geography) and Dr. Hackenberg (psychology) for joining my committee from outside my

department. I also wish to thank Dr. W. Penn Handwerker. His book on the causes of the

demographic transition in Barbados has had a large impact on me. Ms. Gwendolyn

Wynne, Ms. Elizabeth Miller, and especially Dr. Jack Blatherwick have been a constant

support. I also want to mention my closest friend during these graduate school years, Haba

Musengezi (from Zimbabwe). It is largely due to his diverse knowledge of Africa and his

friendly promptings that I chose to conduct field research in Zimbabwe and selected Sub-

Saharan Africa as my geographic region of expertise. The three anthropologists on my

committee, Drs. Bernard, Cohen, and Harris, are recognized as tireless educators and

productive scholars; the creative wisdom and genuine love of discovery of Dr. Bernard, the

rigorous and insightful queriousness of Dr. Cohen, and the intellectual integrity and

passionate humanitarianism of Dr. Harris have made an indelible impression upon me (and

many other young anthropologists). It is an honor to have such distinguished gentlemen on

my Ph.D committee. It is with my deepest gratitude and admiration that I thank my advisor,

friend, mentor, and chair of my Ph.D committee, Dr. H. Russell Bernard. His unwavering

belief in me confirms once again the power of the Pygmalian Effect. Finally, none of this

would have been possible without the unconditional support and encouragement of my

mother, Ms. Inga lone Iverson. Her loving independent spirit, reasonableness, and

sensibilities have deeply influenced my life. This work is dedicated to her.


Theories of demographic transition have been forwarded almost exclusively by

social scientists trained in the field of demography. Some theoretical and empirical work

has been offered by psychologists, sociologists, biologists, historians, economists, and

anthropologists. Demographers form their theories of fertility transition by adopting

different combinations of these perspectives. This interdisciplinary interest has greatly

advanced our scientific understanding.

Within anthropology, an array of subfields contribute to demographic knowledge.

These include biological anthropology, archeology, ethnology, cross-cultural studies, and

cultural evolutionary theory. What binds these specialties together and best describes the

anthropological perspective is their comparative cross-cultural method and evolutionary


Unfortunately, the anthropological perspective has not gained the intersubjective

recognition it deserves within the social sciences in general and among demographic

transition theorists in particular. In spite of this, new contributions to demographic

transition research and theory made by trained demographic anthropologists are

accumulating. The growing consensus that demographic theory should be incorporated into

evolutionary theory is the inspiration for this book.






Etic Behavioral & Emic Mentalist Models 5
Consciousness and Fertility 15
Cultural Materialism, Behaviorism, Evolutionism and Fertility 20

Modernization and Westernization Theories 27
Wealth Flows Theory -__ 33
Resource Access Hypothesis ---......__ 35
Evolutionary Demographic Transition Theory 40

Prehistoric Demographics__ _--- 50
The First Demographic Transition 53
The Second Demographic Transition 57
Comparative Causes of Demographic Transition 62

Education and Fertility ____69
Employment and Fertility_ 74
Transition in Zimbabwe 78
Transition in Barbados 84
Transition in Mauritius 86
Transition in Kuwait 92
Summary__ .__............__........ 101





Abstract of the Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy




December 1992

Chairman: Dr. H. Russell Bernard
Major Department: Anthropology

The objective of this work is threefold: 1) to show how epistemological assumptions

influence fertility research methods, theory, data analysis, and population policy; 2) to

present a unified theory for understanding the causes of fertility behavior; and, 3) to show

how this theory can explain the underlying causes of demographic transition from

prehistoric to present times.

Reviewing the literature on reproductive decision-making, it is shown how emic

mentalist and etic behaviorist epistemological approaches lead to divergent explanations in

fertility research. Cultural idealist and cultural materialist fertility theories are contrasted;

assumptions about consciousness and deliberate fertility control are discussed. It is argued

that etic behavioral and cultural materialist approaches avoid the biases of modernization

and westernization theories that are often associated with emic mentalist and cultural idealist


The rise of demographic transition theories is presented, beginning with

modernization and westernization theories, followed by Caldwell's "wealth flows theory"

and Handwerker's "resource access hypothesis." Finally, the synergism of cultural

materialist, radical behaviorist, and punctuated evolutionist theories is formulated as the

basis for "evolutionary demographic transition theory."

Evidence from the first and second demographic transitions is presented;

corresponding changes in modes of production and reproduction are explained and

changing costs and benefits of childbearing are analyzed. Assumed causes of modem

fertility decline, i.e., western style education, modem health care, family planning, and

employment opportunities, are subjected to the scrutiny of the research literature. Only

increased employment opportunities for women outside the household stands as an

independent cause of fertility decline. Zimbabwe, Barbados, Mauritius, and Kuwait are

selected as country examples of changing material forces leading to demographic transition.

It is concluded from the Pleistocene to the present, in developing and developed

countries, reproductive behavior is an adaptive response to material conditions; fertility

outcomes reflect women's struggle to make the best of their lives given a set of external

circumstances completely beyond their control. The most important causal factors in

modem fertility decline are 1) economic conditions or employment opportunities that

conflict with childrearing and 2) women's access to material resources independent of men

and children.


Since Ehrlich's The Population Bomb (1968) and Meadows' The Limits to Growth

(Meadows et al 1972), there has been a growing popular perception that rapid global

population growth is endangering the natural ecological systems of finite earth. Almost

twenty years later, Ehrlich has appropriately redirected his blame to the high

consumption/pollution patterns of the one-forth of the worlds population who live in

industrialized countries (Ornstein and Ehrlich 1989). If population growth is no longer a

global danger, why are social scientists still concerned about the causes of high fertility?

The answer is that rapid population growth is still endangering finite natural human-

ecosystems in certain parts of the developing world. The fate of the earth may not be in

immediate danger by population growth in developing countries, but the local livelihood,

health and welfare of many millions of people is in danger. Many more populations are

politically and geographically circumscribed today than ever before. In cases of

circumscription, rapid population growth eventually leads to environmental depletions;

standards of living decline and levels of malnutrition increase. This, in turn, may lead to

political instability and eventually to a civil revolt in which many more people suffer.

In spite of these developments, the very notion that overpopulation exists is

controversial. Rapid population growth has been viewed by some as a prerequisite to

market development and entrepreneurial initiative. Others are convinced that a focus on

overpopulation as the cause of environmental degredation, declining living standards,

malnutrition, civil unrest, etc., is like "blaming the victim." It is argued that these

developing world problems are not caused by overpopulation but are caused instead by

local and international economic exploitation and sanctioned by corrupt political regimes.

Why study the causes of fertility decline and demographic transition if the real problems are

political and economic?

The answer is that political, economic and demographic factors are interrelated and

interdependent; a better solution to any one will help in the solution to the others. New

interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge (such as this one) are more keenly aware of the

dynamic causal relationships between material (and nonmaterial) factors in cultural

evolutionary change. Also, since millions of dollars of international development aid is

disbursed annually, any research that can enhance its intended positive impact on people

(and minimize possible unintended negative impacts) is of value. Finally, for me there is a

personal excitement of discovery and satisfaction in formulating a new solution to an old

question that I feel has not yet been convincingly answered.

This manuscript is divided into seven chapters. Chapter one is the introduction. In

chapter two, I focus on the epistemological basis for understanding theories of reproductive

decision-making and demographic transition; I describe the epistemological underpinnings

for two different models of reproductive decision-making and describe materialist and

behaviorist perspectives in greater detail. In the third chapter, I describe the leading

demographic transition theories beginning with the generalist modernization/westernization

theory, followed by Caldwell's wealth flows theory and Handwerker's resource access

hypothesis; in the final section of this chapter I introduce evolutionary demographic

transition theory. In chapter four, I review and compare empirical evidence from prehistoric

and historic demographic transitions. Chapter five is a review of research which pertains to

modern demographic transition, the causal relationships between education, employment,

and fertility, and a description of several recent demographic transitions in terms of these


factors. In chapter six, I discuss the implications of an etic materialist approach to

understanding the causes of demographic transition and the possible applications of

evolutionary demographic transition theory for domestic and international aid and

development policy. Chapter seven is the conclusion.



One common research assumption is that knowledge of micro phenomena will lead to

an understanding of macro phenomena. On the basis of this assumption it is believed that

understanding the causes of reproductive decisions will lead to an understanding of

demographic transition. However, it has also been argued that the underlying basis for

reproductive decisions is culture-specific, and therefore, data derived from one culture

cannot be applied to understanding how reproductive decisions are made in another culture.

Others argue that while there are clear differences in fertility preferences, values and beliefs

cross-culturally, reproductive outcomes are determined by various external material

conditions which act similarly on all individuals.

In this chapter, I will describe two different approaches to reproductive decision-

making and demographic transition model building beginning with their epistemological

assumptions. I will show how these approaches lead to divergent explanations of fertility

transition and explain why the epistemological assumptions of one approach lead to a more

rigorous cross-cultural and evolutionary basis for understanding the causes of reproductive

behavior. Also, I will show how this approach avoids ethnocentric and western-centric

assumptions about the causes of sociocultural change.

Etic Behavioral and Emic Mentalist Models

Efforts to model reproductive decision-making have taken two very different

approaches--mentalist and behaviorist. Mentalist models stress subjective, unpredictable,

consciousness driven reproductive decisions. Behaviorist models stress reproductive

selection-by-consequences with objective material conditions. These two models originate

from very different epistemological positions.

Epistemology is often overlooked, yet a fatal flaw to many a cleverly constructed theory

begins at the level of epistemology. Indeed, epistemology largely determines methods,

theory, and interpretation. As Lett (1987:36) writes, "Epistemology is the common ground

in all debates, whether the debate involved commensurable or incommensurable theoretical

positions. Eventually, all unresolved substantive issues boil down to a disagreement about

epistemology." Therefore, understanding epistemological differences is critical to judging

the value of methods, theories, interpretations and analysis.

A working definition of the difference between emic and etic approaches will help

illuminate the epistemological differences between mentalist and behaviorist models (also

see Headland et al. 1990). This distinction is made necessary by a situation unique to

human scientists; we are at once observers and participants--the object and subject of

inquiry--usually with deeply enculturated biases and views.

Emic operations have their hallmark in the elevation of the native
informant to the status of ultimate judge of the adequacy of the
observer's descriptions and analyses. The test of the adequacy of the
emic analyses is their ability to generate statements the native accepts
as real, meaningful, or appropriate. In carrying out research in the
emic mode, the observer attempts to acquire a knowledge of the
categories and rules one must know in order to think and act as a
native (Harris 1979:32).

The mentalist orientation of an emic approach is evident; what is important is how or

what the native respondent thinks. Research on fertility decision-making that uses an emic

mentalist approach tends to rely on what native informants say or believe about themselves.

For example, to find out why some women have eight children or why others stop after

having two, it is important to learn about indigenous cultural value systems, the diffusion

of information, and to simply ask why they had two or eight children. On the other hand:

Etic operations have as their hallmark the elevation of observers to
the status of ultimate judges of the categories and concepts used in
descriptions and analyses. The test of the adequacy of etic accounts
is simply their ability to generate scientifically productive theories
about the causes of sociocultural differences and similarities. Rather
than employ concepts that are necessarily real, meaningful, and
appropriate from the native point of view, the observer is free to use
alien categories and rules derived from the data language of science
(Harris 1979:32).

The behaviorist orientation of the etic approach is evident in its mistrust for what people

might say about the reasons for their reproductive behavior. What is important in the etic

approach is not how or what the native respondent thinks, but rather, what external

conditions influence their fertility behavior. Etic behaviorist approaches rely on

observations of fertility behavior vis-a-vis external conditions; it is material circumstances

which motivate the fertility decision-making process. With this approach, to find out why

some women have eight children and why others have two children, it is important to

understand the external material factors which reward and/or punish women for having two

or eight children.

Mentalist models of reproductive decision-making are expressly emic in orientation.

They model what is going on inside the mind of the individual or the group-mind of the

culture. Thus, emic mentalist explanations rely on unobservable private thoughts, i.e.,

goals, motives, and meanings. On the other hand, behaviorist models of reproductive

decision-making are expressly etic in orientation; they model the effects external conditions

have on behavior. Thus, etic behavioral explanations rely on observable public behavior in

the context of material and environmental conditions.

From an emic mentalist perspective, it is important to ask people how they make

reproductive choices and to delve into the social context in which their decisions are made;

changing values and culturally motivated behavior is of paramount interest. For instance,

Knodel and van de Walle (1979) stress that the diffusion of information on contraception

and the communication of normative beliefs were influential agents for the spread of

fertility limitation in Europe. On the other hand, from an etic behavioral perspective, it is

important to observe fertility behavior in the context of essential physical needs; changing

contingencies and materially motivated behavior is of paramount interest.

The differences between emic and etic approaches and mentalist and behaviorist

perspectives are epistemological; as paradigms of understanding, they are incommensurable

(see Kuhn 1970; Lett 1987:31-37). Emic mentalists are cultural idealists; etic behaviorists

are cultural materialists. Emic research approaches do not combine well with behaviorist

perspectives; etic approaches do not combine well with mentalist perspectives. These

differences will become more apparent as we look at their theoretical offspring.

One of the first etic models of reproductive decision-making was introduced by Nobel

laureate Gary Becker in 1960. In his "new home economics" theory (the Chicago-

Columbia theory), Becker assumed a rational consumer and believed that the preference

ordering of consequences is the most important determinant of decisions and behavior

(Becker 1960; 1981; also see Boulding 1966). He was the first to apply this microeconimic

framework to demographic theory. Essentially, Becker proposed that fertility decisions are

guided by the same materialist principles that guide economic decisions in the household.

Becke's reasoning is that since children contribute utility, but at a price, fertility decisions

should be based on the same basic principles as consumer decisions. Crosbie explains:

Becker argued that children were a household commodity and that the
desire for children should be subject to the economic laws of
demand. More specifically, he argued that households would be
rational in their reproductive decision-making, and thus, the demand

for children and reproduction would increase as the price of children
decreased or as household income, the taste for children, or the
prices of other household goods increased (1986:32).

Mincer (1963) expanded Becker's model to include the value of a woman's time.

According to Mincer, women would be less likely to have children when their time is

valuable to them (opportunity costs) and more likely to have children when it is not. Also, a

woman should be more likely to have children when children can reduce her time spent on

household and food production duties, and when children can benefit households


These propositions were substantiated by a series of time-allocation studies and more

detailed micro-economic research of domestic economies (see Becker 1965; Ben-Porath

1974; Schultz 1974; Nerlove 1974; Mueller 1982). One important finding from micro-

economic research is that children in many developing countries make a variety of valuable

contributions to the household from a very early age (White 1975; Mueller 1976; Cain

1977; 1980; Rosenzweig 1978; Nag et al. 1978; Ho 1979). It is not surprising to find that

early household contributions made by children in these countries correlates strongly with

high fertility.

Another refinement of the new home economics model is commonly referred to as the

"quantity-quality tradeoff." Becker and Lewis (1973) hypothesized that if parents expected

greater advantage investing limited resources in fewer children (quality) than in many

children (quantity), they would have fewer children (also see DeTrey 1973). The material

basis for this hypothesis can also be applied to differential investments in male and female

offspring where there are expectations of greater advantage investing limited resources in

one sex (see Chowdhury and Chen 1977; Miller 1981; Chen et al. 1981; Greenhalgh 1982;

1985; Scheper-Hughes 1984).

Recognizing that parental reproductive preferences may vary, Ben-Porath has argued

that conjugal pairs be viewed as self-interested individuals in the marriage contract rather

than as a single entity. In his "transactions framework", Ben-Porath (1978) asserts that the

short and long term cost and benefits of children are not the same for both parents (also see

Ben-Porath 1980; Cain 1981; Nugent 1985). For instance, there is little incentive for men

to have fewer children when they can pass on the costs of child support to wives or an

extended family (see Boserup 1985). Fapohunda and Todaro explain the family

transactions framework:

Perceived child-related benefits and costs are assumed to depend on
the characteristics of the following three implicit family contracts: the
parent-child contract, the husband-wife contract, and the spouse-
extended family contract. The evolution of these implicit family
contracts is assumed to determine the benefit flows from children, the
resources available to support parental reproductive decisions, and
which parent bears the cost of children (1988:575).

From a materialist perspective, Fapohunda and Todaro (ibid:579) continue, "The locus

of the fertility decision-making process is determined by who controls and allocates the

economic resources within the family. A change in intrafamilial asset control could

precipitate a change in decision-making prerogatives leading to altered fertility behavior."

In addition to altered fertility behavior, it is not surprising that socio-economic forces that

affect the value of children also affect the social construction of fatherhood. Bledsoe (1990)

found that in rural areas of Liberia, where fatherhood is often in doubt, men carefully

weigh the material cost of benefits ofparantage before claiming it. About her research,

Bledsoe writes:

In traditional areas, where labor is crucial to subsistence production
and outside resources are scarce, men are eager to claim fatherhood
to children they believe to be their own biological offspring as well as
those whose paternity is in doubt. But an increasing loss of
subsistence farmland in the modern sector to cash cropping and
private ownership is undermining the economic importance of young
children and making them expensive to raise. Therefore, men are
reluctant to claim fatherhood until it is clear that the child has
survived and shows promise as an economic investment (1980:41-

As economic growth occurs, the relative values of land, labor, and capital change.

Also, new expenses associated with urban industrial living change the costs of raising

children at the same time new employment opportunities for adult children alter economic

power relationships and change intergenerational benefit flows. Fapohunda and Todaro


The size of net intergenerational benefit flows from children to
parents is positively related to parental control of valuable physical
assets, primarily land. The rising price of children, induced by
reversed intergenerational benefit flows, is therefore a reflection of
the rising market value of human capital investments and the
diminished relative importance of parentally controlled physical
wealth (ibid:575).

In his "relative economic status hypothesis", Easterlin (1975) posits that as household

income increases, there will be an increased demand for all goods, including children.

Easterlin believes that increased availability and consumption of consumer goods (within a

limited budget) will progressively reduce reproductive investments since children now

become one of many goods. However, what explains the fact that in the United States, the

baby boom occurred in tandem with expanding consumerism?

In Easterlin's "experienced living standard" concept, the increased availability and

consumption of consumer goods will produce fertility decline over time as values inherent

in this process are passed down to children (Easterlin 1969; 1976abc; Easterlin, Pollack

and Wachter 1980). Also, as health improvements increase child survival and fecundity, an

excess supply of children reduces demand and increases motivation for fertility control

(Easterlin and Crimmins 1985).

In his "lifestyle-norm/time constraint" approach, Donaldson contends that lifestyle

changes and shifts in normative values and time constraints during modernization lead to

changes in fertility; once a lifestyle standard is set, fertility will be altered to protect it.

Donaldson observes:

Overall, the broad span of modem history shows that societies strive
to maintain achieved standards, and that they control population in
the process of doing so. Not every subsector of the society is
successful in maintaining standards; but overall, once advance is
reached, it is protected (1991:36).

The theories outlined above share the common assumption that external economic and

material conditions are the original causal factors that determine aggregate fertility behavior;

the role of internal values and cultural beliefs is secondary. Though it is often assumed that

personal preferences, values and beliefs cause behavior, impersonal factors from outside

the individual determine the content of these preferences, values and beliefs. Thus,

impersonal factors from outside the individual ultimately determine family values and

fertility behavior.

However, many of these theorists assume a degree of proactive consciousness in their

models of rational choice. Though a degree of proactivity is always present, there is no

need to assume that people are conscious of the short-term or long-term costs and benefits

of their behaviors to find that they adapt to external contingencies in predictable ways. With

reference to large agrarian families, for instance, Epstein (1977:224) writes, "Their large

number of children were not the result of anything remotely approaching cost/benefit

considerations but were rather the result of a necessary part of the process of adaptation to

environmental conditions." An epistemological discussion of the role of consciousness

(and proximate factors) in fertility outcomes is discussed more fully in the next section.

In spite of some overlap on the issue of the role of consciousness, etic and behavioral

methods and theories of reproductive decision-making have run counter to theories rooted

in emic and mentalist approaches. For instance, criticizing time allocation studies, Pedersen

(1985:20) writes, "To assume such calculations seems to imply too strongly that people all

over the world act just like the IBM when they make their choices." Critics of utility models

of fertility assert that the rational basis of life is quite different in the developed and the

developing world. Working from an emic mentalist epistemological perspective, Pedersen


Even though the etic model of utility may show a net value of
children, people do not necessarily codify this in the same way as the
observer. That is, they may not take the observers variables into
account, they may not use the same model of utility or they may have
a definition of work different from that of the observer (1985:20).

It is thought that in pre-capitalist economies, free choice is less rational and less

optimizing; preferences and tastes are more whimsical and less predictable. H. Simon

(1980:75) observes, "Actual human choices depart radically from those implied by the

axioms (of rationality), except in the most transparent situations. Humans are unable to

choose consistently in the face of even moderate complexity or uncertainty." Crosbie

(1986:57) asserts, "Current rationality models of reproductive decision-making are

deficient for they do not consider the full complexity and fallibility of the human decision

maker" (cf. Wallsten 1980).

For instance, in "subjective expected utility" theory it is argued that anticipated

consequences add a cognitive dimension of uncertainty to fertility decision-making

outcomes (Beach et al. 1976; Townes et al. 1980). In a similar model that relies primarily

on subjective states of mind, the "value of children" theory posits that the value of children

cannot be reduced to simple economics or any other single variable, and that reason is less

important than emotion in the reproductive decision-making process (Fawcett 1972; 1973;

Fawcett and Arnold 1973). Fawcett (1983:435) contends that, "As children become less

valuable economically, they become more valued emotionally; and, as economic

development proceeds, children are in competition with other sources of satisfaction."

Leibenstein (1977; 1981) has argued that psychological factors, i.e., personality and

individual identity, determine reproductive outcomes. Fawcett notes:

No single conceptual or theoretical framework guides research on
perceptions of the satisfactions and costs of children. Research on
this topic is eclectic, analyzing the perceived value of children
descriptively and incorporating this subjective orientation in various
frameworks to explain fertility (1983:429-430).

These emic mentalist theories share the assumption that subjective social and/or

personal factors are primary determinants in fertility decisions. Mentalists who claim they

hold a more eclectic approach to understanding reproductive decision-making argue that

reason itself is growing more inter-subjective. In the "theory of reasoned action",

expectations and reflective normative standards explain contraceptive and reproductive

decision-making (see Davidson and Jaccard 1975; 1979; Fishbein et al. 1980). Crosbie


According to this theory, a person's behavioral and normative beliefs
about some behavior jointly determine the person's intention to
perform the behavior; this behavioral intention, in turn, serves as the
sole and direct determinant of the behavior itself. The more positive
the behavioral and normative beliefs, the greater the intention, and the
more likely the behavior is to be performed (1986:38).

It is argued that behavioral and normative beliefs are products of family and society.

Robinson and Harbison (1980:221) contend that high birthrates may be used to satisfy the

overriding social goal of group (family, tribe, nation) survival. Donaldson (1991:7)

observes, "When reproductive behavior is viewed over the long run from the perspective of

the family's and society's well being, the individual appears to be orchestrated toward

conformity in this fundamental sphere of life." Blake asserts:

Fertility is determined by the characteristics of family and the general
norms and values attributed to the concept of family in the given
society, and the more fundamental changes of fertility are caused by
the changes in the institution of family; therefore a theory of
reproductive motivation is at the same time a theory of the family and
society (1968:24).

In McNicoll's (1980) "institutional determinants" theory of fertility change he

postulates that desirable fertility behavior is institutionalized in a society; social norms

replace individual norms. Similarly, Caldwell (1983:473) claims that, "all aims are

ultimately social." Citing the conforming effects of the past and current teachings of

missionaries, colonial administrators, secular schoolteachers, national school systems, the

mass media, and new national elites, Caldwell ibidd) asserts, "For fertility decline, the rapid

establishment of a global society is probably more important than the creation of a global


In his theory of"social influence groups," Leibenstein (1974) contends that normative

standards and motivations for fertility and family size diffuse between social influence

groups, i.e., people of lower socioeconomic status emulate the fertility behaviors of people

of higher socioeconomic status. Along similar emic normative and diffusionary lines of

reasoning, an "international demonstration effect" is believed to take place, whereby

fertility norms in developed countries are emulated by developing countries (Teitelbaum


Demographic theorists who specialize in the understanding of subjective states of mind,

socialization processes, and the diffusion of normative beliefs have made valuable

contributions to fertility decision-making research. However, as we will see below, to be

satisfied with this level of understanding "quits early." Thus, many demographic theorists

and researchers ignore the underlying material forces acting upon and changing individual

and cultural preferences, values, and beliefs. Even some economically oriented

demographic experts have underestimated the diversity and effects of these material forces.

Yet the discovery of original causes of fertility behavior is critical to the design of

international aid and development policies which seek to affect fertility outcomes.

An anthropological perspective is especially well suited to consider the effects of

diverse material conditions--original causes--on individual fertility behavior and cultural

evolution. I believe the next major contribution in fertility research will be in this area. Once

the effects of material circumstances on the development of fertility preferences, values,

and beliefs are understood, development policies can be designed to affect both material

and ideological changes which further lower fertility objectives.

Consciousness and Fertility

As noted in the previous section, an important and perplexing epistemological problem

related to the etic behaviorist and emic mentalist debate has to do with the notion of

consciousness. It is an a priori research assumption of cultural idealists that

consciousness, i.e., attitudes, preferences, values and beliefs, determines behavior.

Researchers who work from etic research strategies may also believe that behavior is the

result of conscious choice. For example, Becker assumes that individuals make conscious

fertility choices in his demand-related economic theory of fertility. Only cultural materialists

and behaviorists claim that knowing an individual's mental state is untrustworthy in

determining the causes of their fertility behavior. This is why they use etic behaviorist

research strategies. This is also why cultural materialists and behaviorists do not speculate

about states of consciousness. This is explained further in the next section.

Related to the assumption of conscious choice is the notion of natural fertility.

Demographic theorists have assumed the existence of "natural" versus "targeted" fertility.

Henry defined "natural fertility" as fertility which "exists or has existed in the absence of

deliberate birth control" (1961:81). It is estimated that natural fertility can reach a biological

maximum of about 15 births per woman (Bongaarts 1978). Bongaarts and Menken

(1983:31) expanded the notion of natural fertility to include: "The fertility that prevails in

the absence of deliberate attempts to limit the number of surviving children." This takes into

account the proximate effects of prolonged breastfeeding and postpartum abstinence which

lower fertility while increasing rates of child survival. Bongaarts and Menken (ibid:28)

explain natural fertility as, "a function of a set of behavioral and biological proximate


The proximate or intermediate variables approach to fertility was first introduced

independently by Henry (1953, cited in Bongaarts and Menken 1983) and Davis and Blake

(1956). Bongaarts (1978; 1982) later operationalized this approach by focusing on the

causal significance of a smaller set of intermediate variables linking social, psychological,

cultural and economic factors with total fertility rates. From analysis of data of 41 present-

day and historical populations Bongaarts (1982) found that 96 percent of the variation in

fertility is explained by four intermediate variables: proportion married among females,

contraceptive use and effectiveness, prevalence of induced abortion, and duration of

postpartum infecundability. It is argued that social, psychological, cultural and economic

factors operate through these intermediate variables to determine fertility.

There is no doubt that changes in these intermediate factors does affect fertility and

child survival. Research in this area has been of great value. However, changes in

intermediate factors will not result in demographic transition. Because natural fertility has

been seen as a function of a set of behavioral and biological proximate determinants, the

causal role of the perceived or actual costs and benefits to women of having children is

often overlooked. The status of deliberate intent and etic material causes is muddled

because it is assumed that some combination of social, psychological, cultural and

economic factors determines fertility through these intermediate variables.

Some researchers speculate there was little or no individual conscious choice in

premodern societies and there are higher degrees of conscious choice in developed than in

developing societies. For instance, while asserting that there is no individual choice in a

premodem society is too strong, Easterlin nonetheless believes evolution to a modem

society has entailed a change from social control to a more self-conscious individualized

control of fertility. Easterlin is trying to account for the differences in fertility behaviors

between traditional and modem cultures. Easterlin (1975:62) contends his "broader

economic framework", "lends itself to greater recognition of such demographic concepts as

natural fertility, and to the formulation of alternative hypotheses frequently voiced by

sociologists, anthropologists, and other noneconomists."

Demographers have assumed that couples do not deliberately control their fertility until

the end of a fertility transition, when women begin to use modem methods of contraception

and abortion to limit their childbearing capabilities. As the term "natural fertility" suggests,

it has been presumed that "precontracepting" people are simply behaving naturally and are

not aware of the means by which to control their fertility. The model assumption is that

targeted fertility and fertility control is a new invention of modem consciousness, evolving

along with "higher" forms of rationality (see Weber 1958). Indeed, Wrigley (1969)

describes new fertility patterns in terms of a change from unconscious rationality to

conscious rationality.

This cultural idealist assumption about the changing nature of consciousness is

incorrect. Demographic theorists who use this distinction are unfamiliar with

anthropological contributions to the knowledge of human and cultural evolution, and with

the many anthropological insights into fertility research. The assumption that modem

humans (and people in developed countries) are more conscious, and therefore are more

inclined to consciously control their fertility than earlier peoples (and people living in

developing countries) is unfounded at best, and wester-centric at worst. The underlying

assumption is not only unprovable, but is reminiscent of the nineteenth-century version of

the evolution of "civilized" consciousness. Implicit in this psychic evolutionary schema is

that there are "progressive" and "backward" peoples. Such propositions are challenged by

archeological evidence, behavioral data, and historical fact. Harris and Ross assert:

The origin of this assumption lies in ethnocentric and especially in
Eurocentric idealizations of the behavior of "progressive" post-
demographic societies in comparison with the reproductive behavior
of "backward," pre-demographic societies. Only post-demographic
transition contracepting societies are viewed as having the capacity to
make rational calculations concerning the rearing of optimum
numbers of children. Hence, evidence of the use of an array of
culturally patterned procedures which demonstrably have the effect of
controlling fertility in non-contracepting societies--abortion,
abstinence, lactation--is categorically demoted to the status of
behavior whose "goal" had nothing to do with fertility control, and
which therefore could not be true fertility control in the full noble
idealist sense (1987:16).

Unquestioned acceptance of this notion has contributed to the design of ineffectual

international programs designed to reduce fertility. Cultural idealist demographers and

sociologists were convinced that the transmission of rationalisticc" western knowledge and

family planning would enlighten "backward" people and lead to fertility decline in the high

fertility regimes of the developing world. This was the basis of knowledge from which

family planning programs were originally designed and administered. This emic mentalist

approach led to the belief that modern education in family planning and contraception

would change the preferences, values, and beliefs of "pre-contracepting" peoples according

to new fertility goals and desires; with new information they would begin to take deliberate

steps to limit fertility.

Mamdani was one of the first to criticize these cultural idealist assumptions of western

trained social scientists. Mamdani was involved in the Khanna Study, the first longitudinal

study (1954-1969) of a birth control program to have a control as well as a test population.

The findings of the study were either inconclusive or showed that the birth control program

had no effect on fertility. Mamdani observed that the emic mentalist model used by his

colleagues led them to believe:

if only the "right" information can be given to the people they will be
convinced; if only the leaders can be contacted and convinced, they
will use their influence with the people to change their behavior. The
underlying assumption is that the behavior of the population, given
the environment and its constraints, is not rational (Mamdani

However, Mamdani found the fertility behavior of these people was quite rational

considering their desperate economic circumstances. Mamdani asserts:

The failure of the birth control program was not a failure in
execution, but a failure in understanding. No program would have
succeeded, because birth control contradicted the vital interests of the
majority of villagers. To practice contraception would have meant to
willfully court economic disaster (ibid:21)... people are not poor
because they have large families. Quite the contrary: they have large
families because they are poor ibidd: 14).

In a restudy of the same Indian village a decade later, Nag and Kak (1984) documented

widespread attitude and behavior changes with regard to controlling births. They found that

economic development and technological changes in agriculture in the region since the

previous study had changed the opportunity structure of the people. Caste systems of

institutionalized inequality were in the process of breaking down. Skills and perspectives

developed in formal education were increasingly rewarded with higher paying jobs. If the

economy wasn't growing fast, the state was. It was now "rational" for parents to invest in

fewer children in order to pay for their education, which, in turn, was expected to benefit

families in the long run.

The lesson to be learned from this example is that women who have access to family

planning services but choose not to use contraceptives are no less rational, individualized or

conscious of their fertility behavior than are women who use contraceptives. If women in

developing countries have less control over their fertility it is because of inferior

contraceptive technologies, not because they are ignorant. If they have more children, it is

not because their culture tells them what to do; it is because having more children is in their

personal best interest. If they have fewer children, it is not because western education and

family values convinced them to have fewer children; it is because having smaller families

is more beneficial.

As soon as the benefits of small families outweigh the costs, people all over the world

are quite willing to have fewer children; until then, they are not. As the failure of so many

well intentioned family planning efforts attests, people are not duped into behaving contrary

to their material interests. A cultural materialist, etic behavioral, and evolutionary approach

to understanding fertility transition would have avoided these past policy errors, and

indeed, is a prerequisite to the design and implementation of effective development and

fertility reduction programs in the future.

Cultural Materialism, Behaviorism, Evolutionism, and Fertility

An etic, behavioral and diachronic approach to fertility research uses methods and

theories derived from materialism, behaviorism and evolutionism. Unlike cultural idealist

and historical-interpretivist approaches, cultural materialist, behaviorist and evolutionist

approaches to knowledge acquisition are explicitly scientific. As formulated by Harris:

Cultural materialism shares with other scientific research strategies an
epistemology which seeks to restrict fields of inquiry to events,
entities, and relationships that are knowable by means of explicit,
logico-empirical, inductive-deductive, quantifiable public procedures
or "operations" subject to replication by independent observers

Cultural materialist knowledge claims must be founded on the following conditions:

1) operationalizable; 2) parsimonious; 3) empirically testable, replicable, and falsifiabile;

4) logically coherent and interpenetrating; 5) retrodictive and predictive. Beyond the

scientific method, the need for a clear data language lies at the heart of attempts to create a

social science about human beings. For this reason the epistemological basis of cultural

materialism also relies on the distinctions between mental and behavioral fields and between

emics and etics. In opposition to emic mentalist and other non-positivistic approaches,

Harris (1964) argues for the development of an observer-oriented (etic) analysis of

behavioral events that precludes the need to know the actor's mental state (emics).

Similarly, in Skinner's (1963) behaviorist psychology, the only scientifically acceptable

data are public events accessible to observation. The fundamental tenet of behaviorism is

that individuals are conditioned by their environment through contingencies of

reinforcement. Individuals do not have absolute free-will to determine their behavior

independent of environmental conditions; behavior is selected for by consequences in an

environment. Indeed, Skinner asserts:

The discovery that the environment, in acting upon the organism,
could be regarded as a causal agent in the direction and control of
behavior, and the realization that it was therefore possible to dispense
with fictitious inner controls marked the beginning of a science of
behavior (1947:26-27).

For Harris and Skinner, behavior speaks for itself and is predictable from events and

contingencies taking place outside the skin. Mental processes, including preferences,

values and beliefs, are responses to external stimuli, not the causes of overt behavior.

Thus, observing behavior in a material context is more likely to predict preferences, values

and beliefs than eliciting preferences, values and beliefs is to predict behavior. Indeed,

research on informant accuracy has clearly shown that people do not always do what they

say or think they do; behavior is often understood through various biases and memory

lapses (Bernard et al. 1984). This is true whether an individual is conscious or unconscious

of the intentional or unintentional consequences of their behavior.

Accuracy is not the only problem with informant reports; sometimes they misrepresent

the truth. Informants often tell researchers what they want to hear in order to stay on their

good side. This is exactly what happened in the Khanna study referred to above.

Researchers were puzzled that fertility remained high though women reported they were

using the contraceptives given them. Mamdani (1973) later found that women were simply

telling the researchers what they thought they wanted to hear so that no feelings were hurt.

In a more recent example of researcher confusion, in interpreting the World Fertility

Survey, Scott and Chidambaram (1985:21) puzzle over the fact that "the consistent finding,

in almost every country, of large numbers of women, who, while expressing the desire for

no more children, are doing nothing to restrain their fertility even when contraception is

readily available." Instead of questioning whether these women are telling the truth or not,

the behaviorist and cultural materialist would investigate the incentives for fertility and the

reinforcements present which might lead women to express a desire for no more children

while behaving in a contradictory manner.

Because of the impossibility of relying on what informants say or think, cultural

materialists and behaviorists posit a unified behavior stream. Skinner writes:

Science often talks about things it cannot see or measure ... An
adequate science of behavior must consider events taking place
within the skin of the organism, not as physiological mediators of
behavior, but as part of behavior itself. It can deal with these events
without assuming that they have any special nature or must be known
in any special way (1963:953).

Behaviors that are rewarded will increase, those punished will decrease. Behavioral

change is often concomitant with changes in the mental state of the individual, but need not

be. Since mental states do not determine the external material contingencies of

reinforcement and punishment, they do not determine behavior.

An etic behavioral and evolutionary understanding of fertility decisions predicts that

people adjust their fertility behavior to the contingencies and metacontingencies of

punishment and reinforcement. At the individual level of analysis, some individuals may

adjust their fertility behavior more or less quickly and appropriately to the etic (versus

perceived) contingencies and metacontingencies of reinforcement and punishment. But in

the aggregate and in the long run, i.e., the evolution of a culture or species, it is the

contingencies and metacontingencies of reinforcement and punishment that mold cultural

and biological evolution.

Cultural materialists have taken these behaviorist assumptions about the causes of

individual behavior and used them to explain the probable determinants of reproductive

behavior for aggregates of individuals, i.e., cultures. As Skinner argues that individuals do

not have absolute free-will to determine their behavior independent of material conditions,

neither do cultures. Cultural behavior is also selected for by the consequences of interacting

with material conditions. The reason for taking this lesson from behavioral psychologists

became clear from an anthropological understanding of biological and cultural evolution.

Behaviorists have shown that most individuals seek positive stimuli and optimal

lifestyles. Similarly, ecologists and anthropologists have shown that hunters and collectors

maximize the rate of caloric return for their efforts (Charnov 1976; Smith 1983).

Anthropologists have also explained why aggregate reproductive rates correlate with the

costs and benefits of childbearing for individuals living in different modes of production

(Handwerker 1983; 1986a). From an anthropological focus on prehistorical and historical

cross-cultural phenomena, analogous processes of individual and cultural evolution were


However, in spite of an underlying allegiance to behaviorist psychology, and

grounding in the individual, it is not the intention or goal of cultural materialist and

evolutionary approaches to explain individual fertility behavior. The goal of cultural

materialism and an etic behavioral research strategy is to understand the probabilistic causes

of behavior stream events (such as reproduction) for aggregates of individuals conditioned

by the various material circumstances in which they live.

Therefore, reproductive decision-making and demographic transition must be

understood from an etic behavioral epistemological perspective in a nomothetic,

comparative and evolutionary context. Indeed, Skinner (1981; 1984) asserts that parallel

processes of selection-by-consequences occurs in biological, behavioral and cultural

evolution. Skinner (1953:430) writes, "In certain respects operant reinforcements

resembles the natural selection of evolutionary theory. Just as genetic characteristics which

arise as mutations are selected or discarded by their consequences, so novel forms of

behavior are selected or discarded through reinforcement."

In agreement, Harris and Ross paraphrase Skinner's observation:

Sociocultural systems evolve in conformity with the consequences
for individuals and groups who do or do not adopt innovations. We
invite those who find it difficult to comprehend how such systems
can embody a rational or optimizing calculus in the absence of
conscious calculation to examine the occurrence of optimizing
relations established through selection-by-consequences in the
evolution of species, in the behavior patterns of a single species of
organism, and in the behavior of communities of diverse species
organized into ecosystems (1987:14).

Etic behaviorist, cultural materialist and evolutionary models of reproductive decision-

making and demographic transition assert that prehistorical data is not irrelevant, cross-

cultural understanding is not impossible, and that an emic mentalist understanding is not

necessary. Selection-by-consequences implies that optimizing behaviors can be

independent of conscious awareness; selection occurs in all realms of life whether we

realize it or not.

On the other hand, emic mentalist epistemological approaches obscure the etic material

basis of reality by assuming that the level and the contents of conscious apprehension

determines behavior. Not only does the difficulty of getting inside another person's head

make this approach untenable from a research standpoint, but such an approach also leads

to a mistrust of scientific research strategies and more parsimonious causal explanations.

Mentalists seek to invalidate theories and approaches that do not conform to idealist tenets

because they believe utility calculations are dehumanizing. In doing so, they deny objective

reality and reject the material necessities that unite all of humanity under one set of

contingencies. Moreover, cultural idealist and mentalist models of the causes of

reproductive behavior tend to range from being overly complex to espousing the futility of

modeling itself. Thus, they tend to be unproductive from a policy standpoint.

If reproductive behavior was not determined or lawful in any way, then research would

be unnecessary and prediction and control would be impossible. But this is simply not the

case. Strong correlations exist between reproductive behavior and objective material

conditions in the archeological record, in recorded history, and in contemporary cross-

cultural comparative data. Indeed, this makes etic behaviorist epistemologies and cultural

materialist, behaviorist, and evolutionary theoretical approaches a necessity if we are to

predict and control demographic patterns in the future.



Earlier in this century, the exponential growth of the earth's population was thought to

be proof of the growing happiness and progress of mankind. In 1915, an eminent

American demographer concluded his presidential address to the American Economic


Both the increase of happiness and increase in numbers show a better
adaptation to environment, and where numbers have increased we
may infer the increase of human happiness. If this argument is
sound, the increase of the earth's population in less than two
centuries by about two thirds of a billion persons is the only
quantitative test and proof of the progress of mankind (cited in
Demeny 1986:27).

This blind optimism that the growth of human happiness and the progress of

humankind are correlated with rapid population growth was soon disgarded.

Environmental depletion and increasing starvation became the quantitative test and proof of

the regress of mankind. In the 1940s and 1950s, as malnutrition and mass poverty was

becoming evident in certain parts of the world, social scientists began to look for the

determinants of high fertility and the factors that influence its decline. High fertility was

assumed to be a response to high infant mortality. A decrease in child mortality was one

product of modern medicine. This pair of observations laid the groundwork for the first

causal theory of demographic transition.

Modernization and Westernization Theories

From the 1940s, demographers who believed in the "modernization theory" of fertility

behavior held that demographic transition from high to low birth and death rates was

caused by western imports--such as professional health care, universal western education,

mass media and communication systems, urbanization, consumer goods and services, and

an increase in per capital income (Notestein 1945; Davis 1963). Reductions in mortality

were thought to lead to fertility decline after a short lag. This lag represents the time it took

people to begin to trust that their children would survive, thus, relieving them of the need to

bear more children than they actually desired. In the early 1960s, Freeman explained the

dominant view of fertility transition:

Most sociologists and demographers would probably agree ... the
basic cause of the general [fertility] decline are: (a) a shift in functions
from the family to other specialized institutions, so that there was a
decrease in the number of children required to achieve socially valued
goals; and (b) a sharp reduction in mortality which reduced the
number of births necessary to have any desired number of children

Modernization was synonymous with the western notion of progress. From a policy

standpoint, there were two conflicting views on fertility transition in the early 1960s:

(1) fertility decline is the natural result of modernization, i.e., urbanization, better health

practices and lower mortality, universal education, industrialization and occupational

change. Therefore, government birth control policies are unnecessary; and, (2) because

modernization reduces mortality much faster than fertility, this rapid transitional population

growth impedes progress. Therefore, there is a need for deliberate programs to reduce

fertility (Coale and Treadway 1986). Neither group doubted that modernization would

reduce fertility. The underlying debate was about the legitimate promotion of contraception

and abortion on a world-wide basis.

Before 1963 scholars formed their views of demographic transition from

impressionistic generalizations of fertility declines associated with modernization in

Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. However, a vital new source

of data was discovered. For over one-hundred years, European states had collected

socioeconomic and demographic data in more than six hundred provinces. The European

Fertility Project (also known as the Princeton Fertility Project) set out to analyze this

abundance of unanalyzed data. In summing up the results of the European Fertility Project,

Coale and Watkins write:

The demographic transition in Europe, then, was a transition from
approximate balance of birth and death rates at moderately high levels
to approximate balance at low levels.... Couples married late, or
postponed the next pregnancy for self-interested reasons, such as
waiting until attaining the economic position to form a viable
household or extending the birth interval until the survival of the
most recently born would not be jeopardized.... Marital fertility fell
as agricultural and industrial production increased, and improved
environmental conditions and better medical knowledge and facilities
drastically reduced the incidence of fatal infectious disease....
Nuptiality had been far from constant; but the dominant reason for
attainment of low fertility was the universal adoption of parity-related
limitations of births--the effective employment of contraception and
abortion in order to have no more than the small number of births
each couple wishes (1986:28-29).

Essentially, Coale and Watkins conclude that the dominant reasons for lower marital

fertility (demographic transition) in Europe are as follows: 1) better medical knowledge led

to reductions in mortality, which, in turn, led to fertility decline (a standard modernization

postulate of demographic transition); and, 2) during a period of growing agricultural and

industrial productivity more people wanted to limit births and were successful in doing so

through increased contraception and abortion (a standard westernization postulate of

demographic transition).

The causal legitimacy of the former postulate is very much in doubt, as we will see,

while the latter postulate is descriptive and of little value to population policy. While the

conclusions drawn by this generation of research have significantly contributed to the

advancement of knowledge, there are new signs of progress made in demographic research

which dispute many of its knowledge claims.

Within the general paradigm of modernization and westernization there has also been a

proliferation of contrasting theories of demographic transition. Simmons notes:

This situation encourages extended debate about policy alternatives,
where both alternative value structures and alternative theoretical
perspectives vie with empirical evidence in the complex process of
decoding research priorities and policy options. This reality heightens
our need for an understanding of the role of theory and of the specific
theoretical alternatives which have been proposed in the literature

This accumulated puzzle-solving has created a large body of analysis and theory, most

of which has been produced by demographers relying on aggregate data sources such as

those used in the European Fertility Project. Demographic puzzles have been "solved"

through statistical correlation vis-a-vis the expectations of modernization theory; arrows of

causation have often been imputed rather than proven.

As we will see, research at less remote levels of analysis has provided evidence of

numerous cross-cultural anomalies in modernization/westemization theories of fertility

decline. However, intent on finding the cause of demographic transition within the

modernization paradigm, the response to these anomalies among demographic theorists has

been has been to expand the number of interacting variables and to propose threshold

effects. This has made standard demographic transition theory less parsimonious and less

useful from a policy perspective.

For instance, in a recent public policy paper written for the United Nations, Faroog and

DeGraff( 1988:18-19) provide a laundry list of factors responsible for fertility decline in

developing countries:

1) the rise in urbanization and the increasing costs of raising children,
particularly education costs, associated with an urban life style;
2) the declining production value of children with compulsory education,
child labor laws and increasing demand for skilled labor;
3) increasing education and age of women at marriage;
4) changing roles of women in society and greater economic opportunities
for women outside the home;
5) a shift in religious and cultural values;
6) the shift in dependence from local, largely self-contained institutions
(e.g. the extended family system) to larger social and economic units,
allowing for greater individual control of fertility decisions, etc;
7) lower infant and child mortality;
8) the institutionalization of old-age support systems and insurance
schemes; and
9) the greater availability of family planning technology, information and
services, etc.

The necessary and sufficient conditions leading to fertility decline are not clearly

defined by Faroog and DeGraff in this large and complex model. Also, numerous attempts

to isolate some of these variables and measure their impact have not stood the test of cross-

cultural comparison. Moreover, some of these factors supposed to be "responsible" for

fertility transition have antecedent causes or are mutually inclusive.

For instance, urbanization cannot be a sufficient condition because it has proven

virtually unrelated to the fertility transitions that occurred in France, the United States and

Japan. And while there is considerable evidence that religious and cultural change result

from changing material conditions, there is no conclusive empirical evidence which

suggests religious and cultural values independently cause fertility decline. Indeed,

religious prohibitions to family planning seem to have no affect on contraceptive use cross-

culturally. Catholics now have fewer children than Protestants in the United States. Italy,

an almost entirely Catholic nation, has high levels of contraception, abortion, and below

replacement level fertility.

The availability of contraception is also in doubt as a cause of fertility decline. On the

relationship between the availability of birth control and fertility in the United States, Harris

(1981:89) asserts:

The idea that the baby boom collapsed because of the introduction of
the 'pill' can be easily dismissed, since the bust began in 1957 while
the pill was not released for public use until June 1960. As late as
1964, when fertility was falling at unprecedented speed, only 10
percent of married women of childbearing age were using the 'pill'.

In developing countries a number of studies have shown that contraception is used to

replace traditional mechanisms of birth spacing and has little or no affect on limiting family

size (see Giorgis 1988:8.1.7.; Bongaarts 1981; Ware 1976:480). In Kenya and Lesotho,

Mhloyi (1986) found that the availability of family planning services did not translate into

acceptance or use of such services. Indeed, Kenya introduced one of the first national

family planning services available in Africa over 20 years ago but presently has the highest

population growth rate in the world--estimated at close to 4 percent.

However, access to birth control technology humanizes the process by which births are

avoided. It also adds to the quality of life women may enjoy when they are reasonably

certain they will not become pregnant from sexual relations. In addition, by assisting

women to avoid high risk pregnancies (those which are too closely spaced and among

teenagers), family planning can help reduce morbidity and mortality levels among mothers

and their children.

In spite of much data to the contrary, one of the most consistently cited causes of lower

fertility is improvements in health care which results in declining infant mortality. This

conclusion is very much in doubt. Transition to low fertility has been observed to precede

infant mortality decline in certain areas of France and Hungary in the nineteenth century

(Caldwell 1976; 1982). There are historical examples of frontier regions in the United

States, Canada, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and the Russian Empire where fertility

decline preceded mortality decline (Donaldson 1991:13). High levels of fertility have also

been shown to coincide with low levels of infant mortality in developing countries (Coale et

al 1979). Knodel and van de Walle (1979:224) write, "At this stage, no definitive

conclusion can be reached on the role of declining mortality in the fertility transition of the

West." Van de Walle (1986) has shown that there is no systematic association between

fertility and infant mortality levels of various historical European populations before,

during, and after demographic transition. Using modem aggregate data from Africa,

Cantrelle et al (1978) failed to find a relationship between total fertility rates and infant

mortality. Analyzing a sample of 98 contemporary developing countries, Hess (1988:132)

concludes, "There is little empirical support for declining infant mortality's contributing

directly to reducing fertility." Indeed, high infant mortality and demand for family planning

services have been shown to coexist (Schuler and Goldstein 1986). Scrimshaw (1978) has

even found that under adverse material conditions infant mortality is a response to high

fertility rather than a stimulus to it.

However, the costs and benefits of childbearing have changed dramatically. Raising

children has become more expensive with new health, education, food and clothing

standards and with the increased costs of urban living. At the same time, the production

value of children has declined with urban residence, compulsory education, child labor

laws, new labor-saving technologies and the increased demand for adult skilled labor.

Further, greater economic opportunity outside the home causes young women to stay in

school longer, adopt fertility control measures sooner, marry later, expect less from their

children, and to cease reproducing earlier. These factors are central to the next three causal


Wealth Flows Theory

In the early 1980s, Caldwell (1982) introduced a more parsimonious westernization

theory of the causes of demographic transition. In his "wealth flows theory", Caldwell


In pretransition societies (i.e., before the onset of fertility decline),
the net value ofintergenerational wealth flows (labor and services,
goods and money, and present and future guarantees, including old
age support) is upward, whereas in posttransitional societies it is
downward (1983:459).

Caldwell argues that cultural (emic mentalist) factors create moral changes in

intergenerational attitudes that lead to a reversal of economic family obligations (1976;

1978). He claims that western education creates new attitudes toward the family. This in

turn leads to a reversal of wealth flows within the family and subsequent adaptive changes

in fertility behavior (1980:231). Caldwell argues that fertility transition is a function of the

diffusion and assimilation of western attitudes, tastes, preferences, and values through

schooling and the mass media (1982).

This shift in moral responsibility corresponds with the emotional nucleation of the

family, the rising costs of education, and increased individualism. Caldwell posits that in

nuclear families, conjugal partners are no longer morally obliged to consider the wishes of

their extended family. Wealth begins to flow away from parents toward children. In

addition, since more education is required to gain employment in the modern sector of the

economy, parents are obliged to invest more in fewer children.

Ironically, these moral and economic changes also encourage children to strike out on

their own once they become free of parental supervision. Traditional patterns of high

fertility which emphasized quantity of children are no longer cost effective for parents who

may not expect their children to support them in old age (which was the normative moral

responsibility in the past). Each of these factors makes childbearing a more expensive and

economically speculative proposition.

Unfortunately, the Caldwells are not always consistent or clear about causation. For

instance, Caldwell and Caldwell (1987a) contend that this process of westernization is

delayed by deeply rooted African religious values which support the power of the elders

and ancestors. They assert, "a discussion of prosaic material considerations understates the

essentially religious underpinning of high fertility" (ibid:421). In the same year the

Caldwells also presented an article which states, "Educational opportunities and subsequent

occupational opportunities are by far the most important factors in limiting family size"

(Caldwell and Caldwell 1987b: 11).

It is difficult to resolve the frequent contradictions in the Caldwells' writings. Is it

"religious underpinnings", "educational and occupational opportunities", or both factors,

which determine fertility behavior? The intended causal sequence the Caldwells suggest is:

(1) educated children become (2) secularized adults, and therefore, (3) have weaker ties to

traditional pronatalist beliefs. This is usually true. But is not the expectation of more old

age support one incentive for parents to educate their children? Therefore, is it not because

of "prosaic material considerations" that parents invest more in their children's education,

thereby encouraging their children's break with traditional religious pressures for high


Parents may in fact be consumers and investors without being conscious of how their

productive and reproductive behaviors relate to consumption and investment. Based on this

understanding, Handwerker has proposed that people get an education, have children, and

exploit each other to gain access to resources.

Resource Access Hypothesis

The "resource access hypothesis" is logically consistent, parsimonious, and does not

rely on mentalist or western ideological assumptions. The resource access hypothesis, as

formulated by Handwerker (1983; 1986a; 1986b; 1987; 1989), is founded on materialist

causal variables as they relate to women's power--"specifically the opportunity to pursue

goals independently of their childbearing capacity" (Handwerker 1990:3). Handwerkers

explicitly structural, political-economic and anti-patriarchal orientation is a feminist

approach to demographic transition theory. Handwerker writes:

The resource access hypothesis thus conceives fertility transition and
the revolution in social relationships that precipitate it as one effect of
a fundamental change in the costs that attach to resources and to the
means women can use to gain access to resources, and thus as one
effect of a fundamental change in women's power (1989:22).

Handwerker's theory is rooted in the following four relationships:

1) Fertility transition occurs when women are freed from economic
dependency on their children;
2) women may achieve this freedom by direct government manipulation of
resource access costs, as recently in China and Singapore;
3) women may also achieve this freedom once well-paying employment
opportunities open up to them as well as to men, and
4) these employment opportunities open to women when economic
power is decentralized and creates competition that selects
employees more on the basis of personal skills and competence than
on the basis of personal relationships with employers (1989:22).

Handwerker agrees with the materialist aspects of Caldwells' wealth flows theory, i.e.,

the importance of the direction of intergenerational income flows. Handwerker (1986b:3)

asserts, "The adverse effect of this reversal of the intergenerational wealth flow on parental

material well-being provides the incentive for the sharp limitation of family size that has

been the singular feature of the modem demographic transition."

However, contrary to Caldwell and Caldwell's (1990) cultural idealist assertion that the

primary causes of high fertility in sub-Saharan Africa are kinship patterns and the

traditional socioreligious emphasis on replacing the lineage, Handwerker argues that high

fertility is a response to limited access to strategic resources. On a similar material basis,

contrary to Caldwell's idealist belief in the education model, Handwerker asserts that

education alone will not fuel fertility transition; transition only proceeds "when changes in

opportunity structure and the labor market increasingly reward acquired skills and

perspectives" (Handwerker 1986a:400). Thus, Handwerker asserts:

The relative importance of kinship and other personal relationships
can change only when alternative lines of access to strategic
resources proliferate. Formal education and skill training, which
become of widespread importance only in the context of the industrial
system, offers for the first time in human history a criterion that can
be used independent of kin and other social relationships to gain
access to strategic resources. However, such proliferation cannot
occur unless this novel line of access to key resources yields greater
returns more reliably than the use of personal relationships.
Educationally-acquired skills and experiences can yield such returns
only with changes in the opportunity structure and the labor market.
Such changes in opportunity structure and the labor market have the
effect of constraining the income flows accessible solely through
children and the personal relationships (to kin, friends, and patrons)
they can create.
Hence, fertility transition should not follow from the onset of mass
education, as Caldwell claims, but from the conjunction of mass
education with changes in opportunity structure that increasingly
reward educationally-acquired skills and perspectives (1986b: 15-16).

According to Handwerker, this depends on fundamental structural economic change

which creates more nonagricultural economic opportunities (especially for women) and

selects for more democratic hiring practices. This results in more egalitarian power relations

between the sexes and more opportunities for women to pursue goals independently of

their childbearing capacity. Increasing meritocratic access to economic opportunities creates

the material incentives for women to stay in school longer and to achieve economic

independence from children and men.

The industrial mode of production relies on an expanding base of technicians, workers

and consumers. New educational, career, and employment opportunities offer women and

their young adult children greatly expanded access to economic resources. Under these new

cultural-material conditions, achieved status increasingly replaces ascriptive status as

education and technical skill are rewarded. Kinship and other personal relationships which

traditionally were used to secure access to resources are increasingly replaced by alternative

means. In Barbados, Handwerker points out:

Prior to 1960, the Barbadian economy was characterized by an
uncompetitive and oligopolistic resource structure the primary effects
of which was to allocate opportunities largely on the basis of
personal relationships, and these on the basis of sex, class, and
color.... Between 1955 and 1965, the Barbadian economy
underwent a major structural discontinuity marked by the decline in
the importance of sugar and the ascendancy of industrial
manufacturing and tourism. The economic well-being of these
sectors was subject to selection on the basis of quality and cost
factors set in international markets; they opened up new resource
access channels for both men and women, and, by the 1980s,
Barbadian women were able to chart their own course in life in ways
that had been denied to their mothers and grandmothers (1990:8).

The introduction of western style education, modem health care, and family planning

programs were not responsible for this new freedom; women's independence came after

structural economic developments opened new resource channels which offered women

new socioeconomic roles. New freedoms were not the result of an aggressive equality

movement among women who self-consciously struggled for their rights. Barbadian

women did not plan the economic and social revolution; impersonal factors selected for

these changes. Selection was based on quality and cost factors set in international markets.

Barbados' close geographical proximity to the United States also contributed, as we will

see below.

Handwerker is critical of demographic transition theories which posit interdependent

processes of"modemization" (Bulatao and Lee 1983; Easterlin and Crimmins 1985) and

the "westernization" of family values by mass education (Caldwell 1982). Handwerker

claims that most indices of development and modernization, e.g., improvements in public

health care, the availability of new goods and services, and growth in per capital income,

are factors whose putative linkages with fertility are either spurious or inconsistent.

Indeed, in summing up his research of demographic change in Barbados--where total

fertility fell from around 5.0 in the mid-1950s to a low of about 2.0 in 1980 (Handwerker

1989:202)--Handwerker writes, "The Barbadian fertility transition was completed in only

20 years, and it occurred demonstrably independently of changes in the level of women's

education, rising standards of living, women's worker participation rates, urbanization,

westernization, or the existence of the Barbadian Family Planning Association" (1990:8).

Beyond his criticisms of cultural idealist explanations of demographic transition,

Handwerker questions the essential assumptions of contemporary social thought--which he

believes were profoundly influenced by Adam Smith. Criticizing Smith's image of people

and society, Handwerker writes:

This image, of people who competitively pursue their own interests
and improve the well being of a society in the process, has given rise
to the presumption that human history is decided by purposeful,
rational thought and action. This view has become an essential
assumption of contemporary social science and the modernization
hypothesis it uses to interpret social and demographic change in the
contemporary world (1989:212).

Handwerker has two major complaints with Smith's thesis. First, Smith's description

of social processes assumes a state of equilibrium and cannot be used to describe changes

in system states, the circumstances of change, or the direction change may take; second, it

is unrealistic and utopian to conceive of human history as the product of foresight,

intentions, and rationality when it is clear that people muddle affairs, mistake best interests,

and when human rationality cannot effectively sort through problems of even moderate

complexity (e.g., Hogarth and Reder 1987). Also, the complexities of power relationships

makes it impossible to plan and direct the course of human events (e.g., Skocpol 1979).

Handwerker cites the influences of Charles Darwin's evolutionism and Karl Marx's

materialism as most important to his development of resource access theory. According to

Darwin (1859), the direction of change is independent of foresight, intentions, rationality,

and purpose; the forces of nature are impersonal. The driving force of biological evolution

is found in the interaction between mutation and changing natural conditions. Similarly, the

driving force in social evolution is found in the interaction between human innovation (see

Barnett 1953) and changing material conditions. Selection eliminates innovations and

behaviors that interfere with the process of resource acquisition and favors innovations and

behaviors that improve or optimize resource access. Arguing that the interaction between

innovation and material selective criteria drives cultural evolution, Handwerker asserts:

Selection must favor any property that improves or optimizes
resource access, that selection will concentrate conceptual and
behavioral innovations that do so, and that selection will build
relatively advantageous means of acquiring resources and will
eliminate innovations that interfere with the process of resource
acquisition.... The changes in social relationships and reproductive
behavior that mark this moment in human history thus must reflect
specific power relationships grounded on specific resource access
cost structures (1989:20-21).

Handwerker contends that Marx's central conclusions about the causes of historical

changes in power and resource access are correct--that beliefs, behaviors, and social

relationships are determined by how people can best access resources. Handwerker notes:

Technical innovations in energy use, transportation, information
processing and dissemination, agriculture, construction, and
manufacturing (see Braudel, 1979; Barnett, 1961) radically changed
the cost structure of resource access and thus constitute the core of
the contemporary world social revolution (1989:215).

Handwerker (1989:215) observes, "The distinctive qualities of the contemporary world

social revolution reflects fundamental change in the costs that attach to resources and to

means women can use to gain access to resources." Thus, according to Handwerker,

modern demographic transition is associated with a revolution in social relationships;

specifically, changes in women's power relationships with men, their children, and their


Evolutionary Demographic Transition Theory

As the title suggests, evolutionary demographic transition theory has much in common

with Handwerker's resource access hypothesis; it is merely an addition and expansion.

Added to the contributions of Darwin and Marx are the modem insights of Harris, Skinner,

and Eldredge and Gould. The theoretical cornerstones of evolutionary demographic

transition theory are cultural materialism, radical behaviorism, and punctuated

evolutionism. No other theory of fertility behavior and demographic transition is explicitly

grounded on the synergism of these three scientific research traditions.

In chapter two I introduced the epistemological similarities of cultural materialism and

behaviorism, and their relationship to evolutionism. Evolutionary demographic transition

theory holds that reproductive decision-making and demographic transition must be

understood from an etic behavioral epistemological perspective in a nomothetic,

comparative, and evolutionary context. Joining Skinner's radical behaviorism and Harris'

cultural materialism, it is asserted that fertility behaviors and outcomes are selected by their

consequences in material reality.

What is meant by material conditions and causes in these statements? Marx's form of

materialism has already been referred to as one of the theoretical foundations of

Handwerkers resource access hypothesis. However, Marx was a political-economist and

his notion of materialism was adopted to explain the causes of political and economic

change. Marx blatently ignored Malthusian demographic processes (Malthus 1817); he also

underestimated the potential of technology (see White 1949; 1959) to raise the standards of

material living for the masses, thereby transforming the desperate proletariat into a satisfied

middle-class. Environmental determinants of political culture change (see Wittfogel 1957)

were also inconvenient to Marx's political theories. Finally, Marx was a Lamarkian;

principles of Darwinian selection (Darwin 1859) were incompatible with his notion of

historical determinism. Thus, Marx's understanding of the material causes of change were

narrow and limited.

On the other hand, Harris is a cultural anthropologist and his notion of materialism is

guided by his attempt to explain a much broader phenomenon--the causes of cultural

evolutionary change. Thus, in cultural materialism, Harris includes a broader set of material

causal factors of change. In addition to Marx's economic factors of material change, the

descriptive components of Harris' materialism include demographic, technological, and

environmental causal factors. These four factors comprise the infrastructure. Cultural

materialism describes the causes of cultural evolutionary change in terms of demo-techno-

econo-environmental probabilistic determinism.

These conclusions formulated by Harris and other cultural materialists are derived from

critical analysis of cultural evolution from the Pleistocene to the present; of the dynamic

cultural changes wrought by materialist forces such as ecological catastrophes,

technological innovations, demographic transitions, and economic patterns of exploitation;

and of the causal relationship between these material factors and structural phenomena such

as class stratification, sociocultural integration, and political centralization.

In spite of their different versions of materialism, cultural materialism and dialectical

materialism share similar theoretical principles. For example, both Marx and Harris view

social and political processes as structural and/or superstructural characteristics of material

causes. Especially relevent to Harris' formulation of cultural materialism is Marx's now

famous assertion:

The mode of production in material life determines the general
character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life. It is
not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on
the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness
(1970 [1859]:21).

Cultural materialism is indebted to Marx on this point. Harris writes:

The cultural materialist version of Marx's great principle is as
follows: The etic behavioral modes of production and reproduction
probabilistically determine the etic behavioral domestic and political
economy, which in turn probabilistically determine the behavioral
and mental emic superstructure (1979:55-56).

The fundamental theoretical principle of cultural materialism is this principle of

infrastructural determinism. It is argued that modes of production and reproduction--

infrastructure--should be given highest priority in efforts to formulate and test theories of

sociocultural causation. Demographic, technological, economic, and environmental change

is infrastructural change; changes in these material conditions result in structural and

superstructural change.

The etic behavioral mode of reproduction is defined by Harris (1988:135) as, "The

technology and the practices employed for expanding, limiting, and maintaining population

size." The etic behavioral mode of production is defined by Harris ibidd) as, "The

technology and the practices employed for expanding or limiting basic subsistence

production, especially the production of food and other forms of energy, given the

restrictions and opportunities provided by a specific technology interacting with a specific

habitat." For example, infrastructural change is represented by the increasing technological

exploitation of the natural environment and new economic practices and demographic

strategies associated with the evolution from foraging to agricultural to industrial modes of

production. These infrastructural changes have resulted in structural and superstructural


The etic and behavioral components of structure are defined in terms of the organization

of the domestic and political economy. In short, this includes the domestic and political

organization of order and control, the division of labor, the organization of socialization,

enculturation and education, and the roles ascribed to age, gender and class. By these

definitions, the "structural discontinuities" Handwerker refers to in his Barbadian example

are caused by infrastructural economic changes, e.g., a world market selecting for

manufactured products over raw sugar. Unfortunately, Handwerker does not use the

theoretical framework of cultural materialism and does not employ infrastructure as an

explanatory category. In evolutionary demographic transition theory, infrastructural change

is critical to understanding the dynamic causes of demographic change.

The strategic priority of infrastucture--modes of production and reproduction--is based

on the fact that human beings cannot change ecological, chemical and physical laws, but

can only strike a balance between production, reproduction, and consumption of energy.

These relationships are universal material absolutes that affect each individual, consciously

or unconsciously, and all cultures, past, present, and future. Lett (1987:91) asserts,

"Cultural materialists have demonstrated incontrovertibly that sociocultural systems adjust

themselves in patterned and predictable ways to ecological and demographic constraints."

A fundamental tenet of cultural materialism is that cultures behave creatively and

rationally, but always in response to material opportunities and constraints. Thus, cultural

evolution is probabilistically determined by material conditions. For example, cultural

selection follows the same cost-benefit principles as biological selection. Illustrating the

primacy of infrastructure and of materialist (in this case, ecological) evolutionary selection,

Harris (1979:137) asserts that "ecological conditions embodied in the infrastructure raise

and lower the bio-psychological costs and benefits of innovative responses .. Certain

innovative behaviors rather than others are retained and propogated .. because they

maximize bio-psychological benefits and minimize bio-psychological costs."

Anthropologists have successfully accounted for cultural evolutionary change from the

Pleistocene to the present using the causal heirarchy introduced above. In evolutionary

demographic transition theory, prehistoric data adds comparative strength to historic data,

while a focus on the material causes of fertility behavior offers more explanatory power.

Not only are etic behavioral and evolutionary approaches to understanding the causes of

demographic transition more scientifically grounded than emic mentalist and historical-

interpretive approaches, but they offer an empirically testable theory within a larger

temporal frame of reference. As Harris and Ross (1987:4) assert, "A proper understanding

of history and prehistory cannot be achieved by reading arbitrary slices of time, but only by

reading forward from the paleolithic or from the junction between major types of social


Evolutionary demographic transition theory also avoids the cultural idealist biases

inherent in modernization and westernization theories. From materialist and behaviorist

foundations, evolutionary demographic transition theory asserts the causal priority of etic

material conditions and contingencies and metacontingencies of reinforcement and

punishment over emic mentalist factors. Instead of causal references to tastes, preferences,

values, cultural ideals, and other mental or culturally specific superstructural processes,

evolutionary demographic transition theory refers to the dynamic causal interaction between

economic, technological, environmental and demographic factors. As outlined above, these

infrastructural factors determine structural and superstructural change.

Therefore, according to evolutionary demographic transition theory, fertility behavior is

determined by how individuals can best optimize their material well-being within limited

and changing material conditions, not by the mimicking of western attitudes and behavioral

norms. Ethnocentric notions of evolving states of consciousness, reasoning and

individualism are discarded; misleading and westem-centric notions of natural fertility and

precontraceptive peoples are abandoned.

Evolutionary demographic transition theory holds that mentalist approaches are

unproductive in explaining the causes of differences and similarities in fertility behaviors

because they ignore the material incentives and disincentives which underlie behavior and

value formation. All available prehistoric, historic, and contemporary data suggest that

material opportunities and constraints determine reproductive outcomes. This is not true for

educational, health care or family planning efforts.

However, this is not to say that the provision of better access to education, health care,

and family planning should not be a critical goal of development efforts. Evolutionary

demographic transition theory merely predicts that these humanitarian development projects

will not independently reduce fertility and family size. Such a statement should not be

misconstrued; it merely attempts to clarify the role of those factors which have indirect

affects or are dependent on other factors of change. Indeed, in high fertility regimes in the

developing world today, women access health care and family planning programs in order

to have more, not fewer, children. Evolutionary demographic transition theory would

predict that the employment opportunities created by the introduction of broad-based

educational, health care, and family planning programs would dramatically change the

fertility goals and behaviors only for those women who work outside the home providing

these services. This is because large families conflict with their employment positions.

Family size is determined by the direct and indirect (opportunity) costs and benefits to

women of having children. Thus, family size is smaller when higher fertility conflicts with

access to material resources. For example, family size was small during the Pleistocene

when children contributed little to food production and were a burden because survival

depended on constant migration; and in historic and modem times, when children become

more expensive and are a burden for women who seek economic (material) opportunities

outside the household.

On the other hand, family size is larger when higher fertility enhances access to material

resources. For example, under agricultural modes of production family size increased

because children became less of a material burden and more of a material asset; they were

easier to feed and valued for their productive labor, for politically motivated marital

alliances, and for defense of property if necessary.

A fundamental tenet of evolutionary demographic transition theory is that individuals

(and cultures) behave practically and creatively, but always in response to material

opportunities and constraints. Thus, fertility behavior and demographic change are

determined by material conditions. As we will see in the next chapter, new fertility patterns

correspond with changes in the way humans access material resources.

Cultural selection of reproductive behaviors follows the same cost-benefit principles as

biological selection. Demographic changes from the Pleistocene, through the Neolithic, to

the present, suggest a pattern of punctuated equilibrium, similar to Eldredge and Gould's

(1972) theory of biological evolutionary change (also see Simpson 1944; Gould and

Eldredge 1977).

The theory of punctuated equilibrium is a refinement of neo-Darwinian evolutionary

theory that has gained a large consensus of support within the scientific community over

the past twenty years (Mayr 1992). Many consider it a new paradigm for evolutionary

thought (Ruse 1992). Somit and Peterson (1992:4) explain: "At its most basic, punctuated

equilibrium involved two key propositions: first, that species undergo long periods of little

or no evolutionary change; second, that these lengthy intervals of stasis (i.e., equilibrium)

are broken (i.e., punctuated) by relatively rapid speciation events." Essentially, it is argued

that biological evolution does not always proceed in a gradual manner, but that catastrophic

environmental events have led to sudden changes in natural selective criteria. This would

explain large gaps in the fossil record and the process of speciation.

Eldredge (1992:111) queries, "To what extent are these changes in paleontological

thinking relevant to a consideration of the histories and evolution of social systems in

general and to the study of human history and archaeology in particular?" These questions

have just recently been asked and are being discussed in a diversity of fields, including,

economics, sociology, psychology, psychobiology, political science, archeology, and

physical and cultural anthropology (Somit and Peterson 1992).

Somit and Peterson believe that the theory of punctuated equilibrium already has

considerable metaphorical and heuristic value (if not eventually hard scientific validity).

They assert, "Theories as metaphors or models can also be substantial aids for advancing

our comprehension of social reality" ibidd: 11). Under this auspices, the theory of

punctuated equilibrium has been used to explain changes in American electoral behavior

(Carmines and Stimson 1989), to model political socialization (Ra 1988, cited in Somit and

Peterson 1992), and to speculate on changes in the relationship between the biosphere and

the sociosphere (Boulding 1992).

How does the theory of punctuated equilibrium relate to human behavior and

demographic processes? When dramatic environmental change creates a punctuation point

in biological evolution, survival is suddenly contingent upon a different set of biological

abilities. Organisms that already have biological make-ups which allow them to live (to

produce and reproduce) in these new conditions survive; organisms that do not, perish.

Similarly, when dramatic environmental change created a punctuation point in human

cultural evolution, survival suddenly was contingent upon a different set of productive

abilities and reproductive behaviors. Human groups that adopted new productive and

reproductive strategies survived; others groups perished.

By analogy, when dramatic infrastructural change creates a punctuation point in cultural

evolution, the success of individual survival strategies is contingent upon a new set of

productive and reproductive behaviors. As the costs of childbearing begin to outweigh the

benefits, some women become demographic innovators and cultures become more

antinatalist. This can occur gradually or dramatically, depending on how gradual or

dramatic the infrastructural change. Punctuation points in human cultural evolution reflect

dramatic changes in productive and reproductive behaviors.

As we will see below, there have been two major punctuation points in demographic

history and prehistory. The first occurred during the Paleolithic after an ecological

catastrophe forced humans to adopt (invent) a new strategy for survival--the domestication

of plants and animals. Population growth rates which had reached equilibria at low levels

during foraging modes of production suddenly rose to new heights. The second major

punctuation point occurred after humans learned to harness energy from fossil fuels. Under

the agricultural mode of production population growth rates reached equilibria at high

levels, then suddenly dropped with the onset of industrial modes of production.

As recent country examples suggest, once the material incentives for demographic

transition are present it can occur in a generation or two. Incorporating the theory of

punctuated equilibrium into evolutionary demographic transition theory emphasizes the fact

that once the necessary material conditions are present, demographic transition will proceed

rapidly in spite of traditional pronatalist cultural institutions and beliefs.



From an evolutionary perspective, there have been two major well documented

demographic transitions since the emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens 100,000 years ago;

the first toward increasing and the second toward decreasing population growth. New

fertility patterns followed dramatic changes in survival strategies which were made

necessary by fundamental changes in the way humans could access material resources.

Productive and reproductive (demographic) transitions represent punctuation points in

cultural evolution. The first demographic transition corresponds with the Neolithic

Revolution, when humans domesticated plants and animals. This innovative new food

production technology created an abundance of new food resources which could be

harvested without migrating. The second demographic transition corresponds with the

Industrial Revolution, when humans captured enormous new energy reserves in fossil

fuels and used them in conjunction with machines to produce work. This innovative new

production technology created abundant food resources and an almost unlimited array of

commodities for human consumption.

Revolutionary changes in human reproduction coincide with revolutionary changes in

production. This "coincidence" has led to research examining the affects of basic resource

characteristics on reproduction. This chapter looks at the dynamic feedback between modes

of production and modes of reproduction. Surrounding these two periods of reproductive

transition and productive revolution there are three periods of relative productive and

reproductive stasis or equilibrium--the foraging, agricultural, and industrial production

periods. These periods are also referred to as the prehistoric, historic, and modem periods.

Prehistoric Demographics

During the Pleistocene, population growth was slow, but steady, as homo sapiens

populated the earth. These early human pioneers were organized in nuclear families and

small bands of 20-50 individuals. They survived by cooperatively hunting wild animals

and gathering food from plants. Population densities among paleolithic hunter-gatherers

seldom rose above one person per square mile.

Thomas Hobbes supposed the lives of these prehistoric peoples were "solitary, poor,

nasty, brutish, and short." Similarly, without empirical evidence, demographers have

assumed that high fertility and mortality accounted for low population growth rates during

most of human history. This assumption was based on three popular, but erroneous,

speculations about the conditions of prehistorical humankind: 1) the Hobbesian notion that

prehistorical peoples were inherently aggressive "killers" living in a world of "all against

all"; 2) the Rousseauean notion that prehistoric peoples lived in a "state of nature" where

birth and death rates occurred naturally, without active regulation; and, 3) the Malthusian

notion that pre-historical peoples were preconscious, promiscuous, and uncivilized. These

notions are contrary to diverse sources of anthropological evidence.

It is now believed that adequate nutrition (though periodically deficient in calories) and

a relatively low incidence of infectious disease helped keep child and infant mortality down

during most of the Pleistocene (Truswell and Hansen 1976; Segraves 1977). Judging from

archeological evidence of healthy bones and teeth, mortality may not have been higher

30,000 years ago than it was in presently developed countries immediately before the

introduction of modem sanitation and medical practices (Angel 1975). The general well-

being of modem hunter-gatherer populations support this archeological finding (Lee 1968).

Indeed, Sahlins' (1972) calls our Pleistocene ancestors the "original affluent society."

Assuming low to moderate mortality (in order to account for low population growth)

fertility also must have been low. Johnson and Earle (1987:28) cite biological (intermediate

factors--see Bongaarts 1982) and environmental factors to account for moderate to low

fertility and low population growth among hunter-gatherers:

First, a chronic caloric deficiency lowers fertility rates; because of
seasonal cycles in food availability and limited capabilities for
storage, periods of food shortage were common. Second, a long
nursing period delays renewed ovulation; since most wild foods are
apparently not well suited to ween young infants, nursing among
foragers typically remains a child's main food source for the first
two or three years. Third, the intense physical exercise required for
mobile foraging may lower female fertility (Frisch et al. 1980).
Fourth, because closely spaced children are an economic hardship
in a mobile society, infanticide may have been used to space births
(Birdsell 1968).

Poor nutrition during periods of breastfeeding prolongs postpartum amenorrhea, hence,

infecundability (Wilmsen 1981; 1986). In addition, dietary stress probably increased the

incidence of infanticide (Harris and Ross 1987:21-35; Scrimshaw 1978; 1983). There is

also evidence that the composition of the paleolithic diet may have created lactational

afertility. Based on the high protein consumption and the postpartum practices of hunter-

gatherers, Harris surmises that:

prolonged and intensive lactation was an important means of
fertility control throughout much of the paleolithic. The
effectiveness of the lactation method for spacing births appears to
be related to the balance between protein calories and carbohydrate
calories in the diet (Frisch and McArthur 1974; Frisch 1975;
Trussel 1978; Frisch 1978). A diet high in protein and low in
carbohydrates is optimal for the lactation method because it
prevents the accumulation of body fat, the putative signal for the
resumption of postnatal ovulation, while sustaining the health of
the mother through the strain of producing milk for three or four
years at a time (1979:82).

Some researchers dispute this "fat hypothesis" (see Bongaarts 1980; Menken et al.

1981), but it is probable that lactation-induced amenorrhea was an important factor in

spacing and reducing births during the Pleistocene. Handwerker notes:

We now have abundant evidence that lactation-induced amenorrhea is
a singularly important determinant of birth spacing, that, together
with relatively minor misadjustments of coital frequency and timing
relative to ovulation, can account for natural fertility levels in the
neighborhood of four to six live births (1983:17).

Birth rates probably were also reduced somewhat because of interruptions in coital

frequency when men went on long hunting trips. When the whole family moved,

dependent children were a burden to care for and carry (Sussman 1972). Also children

offered little return to parents for many years; returns from children of modem hunter-

gatherers per unit of energy expended are low (Hayden 198 lab).

Cooperative social relations among hunter-gatherer groups also limited the social and

political value of children. Handwerker writes:

The flexibility of kin ties, residential rules, criteria for group
membership and sharing among foragers meant that it was not
important for children to provide care and food for parents, and
children were not assets that could be used to extend political power,
or to expand control over a specific resource base (1983:16).

Indeed, total fertility among living foraging groups is low; the mean TFR is 4.716 for

five groups for which data are available (Howell 1979; Jones 1963; Brainard and Overfield

1981, cited in Handwerker 1983; Harpending and Wandsnider 1981). By the end of the

paleolithic, Dumond (1975) and Hassan (1978:78) estimate there were only 5 million

people on the planet. Cohen (1977:54) estimates there were no more than 15 million.

The above data suggest that low to moderate fertility, small families, and low to

moderate population growth was the norm during the paleolithic. This helped foragers

maintain an equilibrium between population and resources (Dumond 1975:714). These

conditions lasted until they were disrupted by climatic change and ecological catastrophe.

At the end of the paleolithic, improved hunting technologies also led to massive

predation of large-bodied food resources. Hayden (1986:178-9) describes these vulnerable

K-selected large-bodied plants and animals with five important attributes: (1) take a long

time to mature; (2) have very low biological productivity (as populations, they do not

produce much edible tissue in a year); (3) exhibit low overall densities; (4) have low

biomass; and, (5) produce relatively few offspring. Thus, the food supplied by these large-

bodied species could easily be depleted.

Over-predation combined with global warming and a subsequent ecological catastrophe

led to the final extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna (see Martin 1984). The collapse of

the food resource base which supported the foraging mode of production, in turn, set the

stage for the invention of the agricultural mode of production in both the old and new

world. This new mode of production is associated with a new mode of reproduction and

represents a punctuation point in human cultural evolution.

The First Demographic Transition

Agriculture was independently invented in different parts of the world and spread over

thousands of years; it was practiced in the Middle East 10,000 -12,000 B.P. and in North

America 5,000 years ago. Where people lived under an agricultural mode of production,

population growth resulted. Carneiro and Hilse (1966) estimate a thirtyfold population

increase in the Middle East between 10,000 6,000 B.P-- from 100,000 to 3.2 million.

Deevey (1960) estimates that human population multiplied about sixteen times during this


People settled and began to domesticate small-bodied plants and animals. Hayden

(1986:184) describes five special characteristics of these r-selected small-bodied plants and

animals: (1) they are short lived (usually less than a year); (2) they produce prodigious

numbers of offspring, sometimes in the hundreds or thousands per parent; (3) they have

very high potential biological productivity (the amount of edible tissue they are capable of

producing is enormous); (4) in some areas they occur in extremely numerous and dense

concentrations; (5) with potentially very high biomass. The new potential food supply from

these small-bodied plants and animals was enormous.

Population increased with settlement and domestication principally because infant

mortality declined (Harpending and Wandsnider 1981; Brainard 1980, cited in Handwerker

1983:19). Infant mortality and infanticide declined because new resource abundance

substantially improved nutrition. Handwerker (1983:21) has calculated that, "a mere 10%

reduction in infant mortality (from 231-208) alone would result in an intrinsic rate of

increase of. 1% per year, the conventional estimate of the population 'explosion'

experienced in the Neolithic." Although there is no clear evidence, fertility may also have

increased because abundant food combined with more sedentary lifestyles would reduce the

fertility inhibiting affects of biological factors.

Parents also came to view children differently than their Pleistocene ancestors because

children provided more economic and political benefits to settled agriculturalists. Securing

access to strategic resources such as land and labor became a dominant survival strategy.

Large families were a benefit on both accounts. Children provided household and

agricultural labor at an early age and offered security to parents in old age (Polgar 1964;

1972; Dumond 1975). Growing territorialism increased the risk of social conflict. Through

the marriage of children, parents formed political and economic alliances with other families

to help them in land disputes and with seasonal labor demands. Weighing these large

benefits against the small costs of feeding and caring for children among settled

agriculturalists, it was advantageous to have large families.

However, population did not increase unabated in a Malthusian fashion. Long-standing

stationary populations existed in the environmentally and politically circumscribed states of

historical India (Davis 1951; Clark 1967:75-76), China (Bielenstein 1947), and Egypt

(Butzer 1971; Butzer and Freeman 1976). Once population densities reached the limits of

environmental carrying capacity, standards of living declined; mortality and infanticide

probably increased, fertility decreased, and population growth leveled off.

Social ideologies conformed to the political climate set by the prevailing demographic

and material conditions. Harris and Ross (1987:79-84) cite positive associations between

antinatalist tolerance of infanticide and non-reproductive sexual behavior (e.g.,

homosexuality) with abundant slave-labor in ancient Rome and Greece; and conversely,

pronatalist intolerance of infanticide and homosexuality with high mortality and demand for

warriors during the disintegration of the Roman Empire. This suggests that death and

fertility control mechanisms were becoming more institutionalized in early state systems;

fertility behavior was increasingly influenced by the new prerogatives of political

hegemony over land and economic control over labor.

Global population rose steadily because agriculture could be practiced far beyond the

domains of early city-states. Agriculturalists migrated when political-economic pressures

rose or when population-resource conditions declined. The agricultural mode of production

led to the rise of the first state systems in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Mexico, and

Peru, the first claims to land as private property, and the beginning of a stratified

socioeconomic and political order based on the control of land, labor, and capital.

Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Westem European feudalism,

populations spread across the open European frontier; hundreds of craft-oriented small

towns were established and centralized political and religious authorities reemerged.

Western Europe experienced dramatic economic expansion and population growth between

the 12th century and the onset of the Black Death in 1347-1351 and 1385. Close to one-

third of Europe's population perished in the Plague; thereafter, standards of living

improved and population grew until the end of the 16th century. About this next period,

Harris and Ross write:

It is the beginning of a period that marks a critical and turbulent era in
Europe between late feudalism and the capitalist epoch, during which
time rural populations in particular were subjected to severe economic
and social pressures. It was an era of mercantile expansion overseas
and the first real assertion by the European bourgeoisie of its claims
to economic and political authority at home. In England, one sign
was the increased pace of the commercialization of agriculture. It was
marked by new enclosures and the wholesale dispossession of
peasants (1987:95).

These dispossessions were not without protest and persecution. Harris and Ross

(1987:96) note that the "Church and State made a general use of witchhunts to dampen

political opposition." They estimate that witchcraft persecutions after 1500 may well have

been responsible for the death of over half a million women (ibid:97). This slaughter of

women may have been one result of increased reproductive pressure.

The closing of the agricultural frontier in Europe and the rise of an increasingly

urbanized class-based capitalist society altered demographic patterns. Levels of fertility and

mortality become increasingly differentiated by socioeconomic conditions.

North America was the last exit into a frontier. The populating and eventual closing of

the frontier in North America was the result of the last great migration of agriculturalists. In

total, it took over five centuries for agricultural modes of production to appear across the

globe; it has taken only 200 years for industrial modes of production to reach every


The use of steam, the factory system, and the manufacture of iron and cotton textiles

began in England in the 1770s. Technological revolutions in transportation and trade,

agricultural productivity, and mechanized manufacturing spread from England to the rest of

the industrializing world. The second demographic transition is associated with the
industrial mode of production and represents another punctuation point in human cultural

The Second Demographic Transition

The second demographic transition began with an unprecedented outburst of population

growth in the late eighteenth century in most countries in Europe and among European

descendants in North America and Oceania, followed by an equally dramatic decline in

population growth occurring between 1870 and the First World War.

The initial spurt of population growth is associated with declining levels of mortality

without declining fertility. A similar phenomenon is experienced in developing countries

today during the early stages of demographic transition. The subsequent decline in

population growth was the result of rapidly declining fertility. Table 4.1 represents the

estimated date of fertility decline by more than ten percent among European countries

(based on 1900 boundaries):

(1) France 1827 (10) Norway 1903
(2) Belgium 1881 (11) Europe* 1903
(3) Switzerland 1887 (12) Austria 1907
(4) Germany 1888 (13) Greece 1913
(5) Eng/Wales 1892 (14) Italy 1913
(6) Scotland 1894 (15) Hungary 1920
(7) Netherlands 1897 (16) Spain 1920
(8) Denmark 1898 (17) Ireland 1922
(9) Sweden 1902 (18) Euro-Russia 1922
*median province date (Source: Coale and Treadway 1986:38)

After France's precocious fertility decline,

French speaking Belgium, the French speaking cantons of
Switzerland, Catalonia, and some provinces in Hungary followed in
the next few decades [after 1830]. Before 1880 fertility had fallen in
only a few other provinces in Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Serbia,
the Swedish island of Gotlands, and St. Petersburg in Russia...

Most provinces did not start fertility transition until after 1880. All
but a few had begun the transition before 1930. About 60 percent of
the provinces began their fertility declines in the interval between
1890 and 1920. Late declines occurred in Ireland, and in the southern
and eastern periphery of Europe, in Russia, Romania, Albania,
southern Italy, Spain, and Portugal (McGreevey 1985:27-28).

The demographic transition in France is of particular interest because it was the first and

because it was a broad-based rural movement; it occurred before the modernizing forces of

urbanization and industrialization had much of an impact. Since most developing countries

are predominantly rural and lack a large industrial base, the determinants of French fertility

decline may be particularly relevant in a developing context.

Birth rates and death rates were high but stable in France until the mid-1750s because

of frequent plagues, famines, and epidemics. Ambiguous data make it difficult to assess the

exact sequence of declining birth and death rates. Bourgeois-Pichat (1965:482) argues that

birth and death rates began to decline simultaneously in the mid- 1770s. However, Henry

(1965:447) argues that lower death rates between 1750-1790 created a slight bulge in the

natural rate of population increase until fertility began to decline in the 1870s. Bourgeois-

Pichat assumed that migration was negligible, that the registration of deaths was complete,

and that mortality estimates were accurate. Thus, Van de Walle (1974:136-144) complains

that Bourgeois-Pichat over-estimated the speed of fertility decline in the early nineteenth

century, overlooked the possibility of under-registration, and exaggerated earlier trends.

However, with the scant empirical evidence available to Bourgeois-Pichat and Henry, no

conclusions can be made about the causal relationship between mortality and fertility.

However, it is clear that fertility began to decline in the 1770s. Falling birth rates

between 1800-1830 are associated with a drop in marital fertility ibidd 974:172). Birth

intervals lengthened substantially between the second and third, and especially the third and

the fourth child (Weir 1982, cited in McGreevey 1985).

Fertility decline was regionally uniform throughout French society (Newell 1977:137).

This suggests the presence of an overarching cause, independent of rural or urban

residence and socioeconomic status. Aries (1980:647) notes that the decline in marital

fertility is associated with the upward social mobility of French children through education.

McGreevey asserts that the French Revolution:

promoted upward social mobility; it brought new aspirations to the
fore, including emphasis on the education of children; it reduced
allegiance to religious norms and legitimized individual choice....
the Napoleonic code changed inheritance customs by ending the
practice of promogeniture (all lands to the eldest son) thus forcing
rural families to reduce fertility to assure that landholdings could pass
intact to the next generation.... a remarkable feature of it was its
spread beyond the educated and urban to permeate French rural life

France did not experience the common stage in demographic transition of a long period

of falling death rates and high birth rates. Consequently, France never had a strong surge in

population growth as in other European countries. Though the agricultural labor force

declined slowly it grew at about the same pace as population from 1775-1850. As a result,

France did not have a large landless labor force. Clapham claims, "There were of course

everywhere some landless individuals.... but the real rural laboring class, the proletariat,

the 'wage slaves' of Marxian economics, did not exist" (1936:162). Thus, the high fertility

commonly associated with landless rural laborers did not exist.

These economic-demographic factors explain why French immigration to North

America was less numerous than from other European countries during the late nineteenth

and early twentieth centuries. Since nearly every rural denizen owned at least some land,

there was less incentive to migrate. Similarly, low fertility was effected by material

conditions. Small private farm ownership is usually associated with lower fertility. Also,

without land available to expand cultivation, the value of child labor and inheritance is

reduced--both factors that positively correlate with lower fertility.

Indeed, the rapid increase of agricultural productivity between the end of the

Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 was because of the spread

of mixed farming, not the expansion of cultivated land. Clough (1939:91) has shown that

the number of small holdings in rural France increased substantially after the revolution.

Wright contends that, "If there was any dominant trend during this period, it was toward a

steadily increasing subdivision of the soil" (1964:6). Newell (1977:162) agrees that, "The

exceedingly low potential for expansion of cultivated land for France as a whole may help

explain its unique demographic behavior--both the early start of the demographic transition,

and the low rates of natural increase."

Though fertility declined slowly in France between 1770-1880, between 1880-1910

marital fertility declined sharply along with other European countries (Van de Walle 1974).

Caldwell (1981a; 1983:469-470) believes that the long, slow decline in fertility was the

result of declining economic advantages of children in a circumscribed agricultural

economy; the rapid decline in marital fertility was the result of women's increased ability to

determine their own fertility in a growing industrial economy.

The demographic transition in Sweden best fits the standard demographic transition

model. The death rate started falling in the 1830s, but the birth rate did not begin to decline

until the 1860s. This time lag resulted in a period of rapid population growth and increased

agricultural circumscription.

Like France, fertility decline in Sweden corresponds with rapid increases in agricultural

productivity based on mixed farming, not the extension of farmlands. With increasing

population and opportunities for profit, private farm ownership increased dramatically

between 1870-1930. Land prices rose and it became increasingly difficult to set up a rural

household. It is estimated that marriage age increased and marital fertility declined 2.5

percent per year between 1900-1930 (Mosk 1983). Increased rural reproductive pressure

was largely responsible for the great outmigration to North America; in the 1880s seven

percent of Scandinavia's population emigrated to the United States.

As defined by Harris and Ross (1987:33), "Reproductive pressure refers to adverse

cost benefit ratios, as distinct from population pressure, which is usually taken to mean

population growth. Reproductive pressure may increase in the absence of population

growth, as a result of depletions and diminishing returns." Or in this case, economic

factors created reproductive pressures.

Increasing reproductive pressures also affected England and Wales. For three centuries,

the age at marriage in England and Wales changed, but fertility in marriage stayed the same

(Coale and Treadway 1986). Marital fertility was high and did not decline until the 1890s

(Coale and Watkins 1986). Lower fertility occurred earlier in some areas because of

delayed marriage and high rates of spinsterhood (Flynn 1982). But Haines (1989) has

shown that control of fertility within marriage was more important than later marriage in

reducing fertility. Whether delaying births within marriage or delaying marriage itself, both

strategies are used to optimize the costs and benefits of rearing children.

Changing economic opportunities and constraints affect people differently by class,

occupation, residence, etc., but the resulting decline in fertility was fairly uniform in

England. As in France, though different levels of marital fertility existed between

occupations and social classes in Victorian England, a decline in marital fertility occurred in

all occupations and social classes simultaneously (Woods and Smith 1983; Woods 1987).

As in France and Sweden, fertility transition in England and Wales was the result of

infrastructural change associated with reproductive pressure and technological innovation.

Broad-based structural economic change and fertility decline occurred as a result of these

infrastructural changes.

Comparative Causes of Demographic Transition

During the long period of hunting and gathering, fertility was moderate, mortality was

low, and population grew slowly. During the transition period of increased settlement and

domestication, mortality initially declined and population grew fast. Toward the end of the

Pleistocene-Holocene transition, mortality and fertility increased. Fertility outpaced

mortality, resulting in population growth. After the agricultural revolution, increasing

population growth lasted until the industrial revolution, when mortality and fertility levels

declined and population growth slowed. Eventually mortality and fertility levels reached

equilibrium at low levels, and populations became stable in developed countries.

During this long demographic evolutionary process it is clear that material opportunities

and constraints altered demographic outcomes. Ecological catastrophe caused demographic

pressure and resource depletions. A changing resource base required (selected for) new

productive innovations and adaptive survival strategies. Technological innovations and

behavioral adaptations became necessary to maintain standards of living. Modes of

production changed along with modes of reproduction.

After ecological catastrophe and over-predation at the end of the Pleistocene, people

who were located near and who were able to exploit new food resources survived. Small-

bodied species of wild plants and animals replaced the extinct large-bodied species. Broad

spectrum hunting and gathering was adopted to exploit this new resource base. People

settled for the first time. Eventually wild species were domesticated. Agricultural

production greatly increased the food supply. Children were no longer a burden to carry

and feed in settled households with abundant food resources. Children contributed to food

production at an earlier age. In addition, because land and labor became critical resources,

children became important social and political advantages and provided parents with

security in their old age. More children resulted in a better life during agricultural modes of


These cultural and material conditions changed with the advent of the industrial mode of

production. New agricultural technologies replaced the need for farm labor at the same time

non-farm employment opportunities were expanding. The declining value of child labor on

the farm and the increasing value of women's work in the modem industrial sector led to

massive urban migration, later marriage, delayed childbearing, and lower total fertility.

Increased costs of feeding, educating, clothing, and providing health care made children

more expensive; the declining economic and social value of children decreased the benefits

of large families to parents. The costs of large families increasingly exceeded benefits,

resulting in lower fertility and declining population growth rates.

The onset of demographic transition throughout Europe corresponds with agricultural

productivity and/or articulated sectorial development. Except for France, agricultural and

manufacturing productivity grew together, displacing people from rural areas about as fast

as increased food production could support urban food consumption.

Private landownership and urban markets encouraged agricultural investment. An

inability to increase landholdings encouraged mixed farming and the use of labor-saving

technologies. In turn, increased agricultural productivity created cheap and abundant food

for the growing urban population. Manufacturers could therefore pay lower wages to their

employees, and sell their products for less, but at a higher profit. This encouraged

increased commodity production and consumption and urban-industrial growth. The

articulation of rural and urban sectors maximized feedback benefits.

For four countries (Great Britain, Norway, the United States, and
Canada) the trend of per worker product in agriculture was identical
to country-wide per worker product. In the Netherlands, Denmark,
and Australia, productivity in the agricultural sector increased at a rate
somewhat faster than economywide productivity. In France,
Sweden, Italy, the USSR, and Japan, agricultural productivity grew

at two-thirds or more the speed of economywide productivity
(Kuznets 1966:113-127, cited in McGreevey 1985:33).

Demographic transition occurred in both rural and urban sectors throughout Europe.

However, in every country, fertility was higher in rural than in urban areas and lower

among landowners than among peasants. Across Europe, landowning families (who were

already reducing their fertility) remained in the countryside, while the rural poor (who had

the highest reproductive rates) migrated to urban areas or overseas in search of land and

employment. The high reproductive rate of the rural poor was the result of new

opportunities for children to migrate and provide remittances from urban employment.

In urban areas, this landless class stratified into a new lower and middle-class based on

skill, education, and employment status. The birth rate of the new urban middle class was

lower than landowning agriculturalists, while the birth rate of the new urban poor was not

significantly higher than landless farm workers. Thus, aggregate fertility differences in

Europe are correlated with the changing magnitude and proportion of rural landed versus

rural landless and urban middle class versus urban poor. The age of marriage also rose

because of migration and the problem of finding urban employment and setting up a


But what factors caused these demographic changes? Mosk (1983) argues that

increased agricultural productivity and new alternatives to family-farm work led to the

dissolution of the patriarchal family system and the beginning of fertility transition. Shorter

(1975:269-280) has shown that parent/child, spousal, and extended family

interdependencies weakened throughout Europe during this period. McGreevey asserts:

The timing and swiftness of fertility declines varied with the extent to
which women stopped working at home and children stopped
working at all.... Even as the agricultural age was drawn to a close
by the rise of industry, change in life on farms, particularly the lives
of women and children, proved to be a critical determinant of the
timing and pace of the demographic transition (1985:29).

McGreevey continues:

The patriarchal system was undermined by the expansion of
education, which offered job certification independent of the
patriarch, and by the growth of labor markets, which offered
alternatives to children and diminished the patriarch's control.
Schooling, and jobs gotten independently, changed the relative
bargaining positions of patriarch, wife, sons, and daughters.
Innovations in farm techniques led to greater per worker productivity
in agriculture and diminished the need for farm family labor. Overall,
the new alternatives for children, and the reduced demand for their
services by parents, reduced the economic advantages of children.
Fertility decline was a predictable response to these changed
conditions (ibid:30).

Intergenerational obligations changed because the mode of production changed. The

growing industrial mode of production created new material relationships which had

historic reproductive repercussions. Women became less dependent on men, children, and

extended families for economic resources, perhaps for the first time in human history.

More economic independence allowed for greater individual autonomy. Since early

childbearing and large families would restrict these aspirations for women, they

increasingly delayed childbearing and restricted family size (Flinn 1982). Also, the

advantages of having a few (expensive) educated, wage-earning, urbanized children

outweighed the advantages of having a lot of (inexpensive) uneducated children.

Hayden writes:

Under advanced industrial conditions the individual rather than the
family (or lineage, or clan) becomes the competing economic unit.
This represents the crossing of a new rubicon of reproductive
behavior, for the fundamental relationships of reproduction
characterizing the previous 2,000,000 years will have been altered. .
.. we have finally reached the top of the sigmoid curve of population
increase begun when hunter/gatherers first began making effective
use of small-bodied resources, some 20,000 years ago (1986:177;
also see Tabah 1980:361-2).

Population growth remained low among Paleolithic foraging people, not because they

wanted fewer children, but because of biological factors and because they couldn't afford

them. Mortality declined and population grew during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition,

not because people wanted more children, but because they could afford (feed) them.

Fertility and population growth increased after the agricultural revolution, not because

people decided to have more children, but because they could not afford to have fewer

children. Fertility and population growth declined after the industrial revolution, not

because people wanted fewer children, but because the costs of large families to parents

outweighed the benefits.

An evolutionary approach to demographic transition shows that aggregate fertility

behavior is a response to the practical problems of earthly existence. New environmental

conditions create new constraints and opportunities for technological innovation and new

modes of production, which in turn, select for certain fertility outcomes over others. Modes

of production and reproduction have changed together in a dynamically interacting feedback

loop, reflecting technological possibilities and environmental variation throughout cultural


Human cultures have existed for more than a thousand generations. For tens of

thousands of years the population growth rates of paleolithic cultures remained relatively

stable, as did their basic technology and mode of production. The number and variety of

human artifacts suggests that a great acceleration in the rate of demographic and cultural

change began with agricultural modes of production. Recent historical evidence suggests

even a faster rate of demographic and cultural change. Boulding observes:

With the rise of science, of course, know-how expanded at an ever-
increasing rate for five hundred years, although the impact of science
on technology, that is, the translation of know-what into know-how,
hardly began until the middle of the nineteenth century.... As a
result, the total ecosystem of the earth, including both biological and
human artifacts, has almost certainly changed more in the last one
hundred years than in any one hundred years in the earth's history
{except for catastrophic extinctions) (1992:181).

To understand the determinants of changing fertility behavior, demographic theory

must be placed in the more encompassing framework of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary

insights show that fertility outcomes are determined by changing material conditions which

affect fertility behavior in predictable ways. In the long run, demographic change is not

caused by cultural, moral or religious beliefs or by the whim of human free-agency, but

rather by practical adaptations to changing material conditions.

The top of the sigmoid curve has been reached in the industrial world. Populations are

even declining in a few countries. However, populations continue to grow in many

countries at disastrously high rates. In these countries, economic growth has not kept pace

with population growth, and reproductive pressure has resulted in further lowering

standards of living.

Development policies based on cultural idealist theories and emic mentalist

epistemologies have had little demographic impact, while policies which have not taken

demographic impacts into consideration have seeded their own failures. Development goals

to raise per capital standards of living are seldom met in rural or urban areas because they

have not been able to create conditions which select for lower fertility along with

development. As a result, poverty and desperation increase.



Increases in modem education is frequently cited in the demographic transition literature

as one of the causes of fertility decline in the developing world. Aggregate cross-cultural

data shows strong correlations between high levels of education, contraceptive prevalence

and lower fertility. Cultural idealists, like the Caldwell's, emphasize the westernizing

influences of education; on the other hand, materialists, like Handwerker, assert that

education will only lead to fertility decline if it is rewarded with modern sector

employment. Without modern employment opportunities there may be little incentive for

educational advancement. Parents may not support the education of their children.

Employment rewards for educational achievement are not always assured in developing

countries. This is especially true in small labor intensive agricultural economies, where

most of the employment opportunities that would reward an education are provided for by

the government. What if the government can not provide enough jobs for school-leavers?

Women and men may leave school earlier to begin a family. When women leave school

early because there are few employment opportunities for educated adults, they may also

have higher total fertility than if such opportunities existed and they choose to remain in

school to follow a career path. Also, without employment rewards for their children,

parents may be unwilling to pay school fees and associated expenses.

The causal role of education, like that of access to birth control, may be unimportant in

fertility reduction unless parents and their daughters have material incentives to take

advantage of educational opportunities. This understanding reverses the assumed causal

arrows, and stresses the primary causal role of economic change in fertility decline. The

belief that education independently causes changes in fertility attitudes and behaviors

toward western fertility norms is increasingly discredited.

Education and Fertility

For some time it has been commonly accepted in the demographic literature that

education spreads rationality, secularizes populations, and contributes to the diffusion of

information and techniques that alter the social values and cultural norms responsible for

high fertility (Stolnitz 1964; Knodel 1974; Bogue 1969; Caldwell 1982). Programmatic

social psychological and emic mentalist approaches emphasize that education changes

attitudes, preferences, values, opinions and beliefs according to new goals and desires

brought about by modernization (Fawcett 1983; Fawcett and Arnold 1973). Caldwell


Education appears to cause the most changes. It challenges traditional
authority, gives females an absolute criterion or value for comparison
with males, teaches girls new aims and destinies that almost always
include some move toward a more egalitarian Western family
structure, and changes husbands' appreciation of their wives, wives'
appreciation of themselves, and children's appreciation of their
mothers. In families with educated women, wives become more
expensive and so do children, partly because mothers appear to be
more likely to stress the dependence of children and the primacy of
the nuclear family (198 lb: 114).

Most aggregate level research on historic and modern populations points to a strong

negative relationship between education and fertility (in Switzerland, Van de Walle 1986; in

Germany, Knodal 1974; in the United States Vinovskis 1976; also see Bogue 1969 and

Petersen 1975). Analyzing time-series data from 5 developed countries and 18 developing

countries, Tan and Haines claim to have found a threshold effect:

Prior to the attainment of primary gross enrollment ratios of about 70
or 80 percent, there appeared to be little relationship between levels
or change in primary school enrollments and fertility. There were
exceptions, but overall a fairly high level of educational development,
as indicated by the level of primary enrollments, seemed to be
important for a decline in fertility to take place (1984:24).

Referring to 46 study populations in the World Fertility Survey (WFS), Cleland and

Rodriquez (1987:6) note, 'There is only one instance when fertility is higher among

couples where the wife has secondary schooling than among wives who completed primary

school." Reviewing the same data set, Faroog and DeGraff write:

On average, when not controlling for other factors, women with
seven or more years of schooling gave birth to three fewer children
than did women with no schooling, while the differentials in
surviving children across education levels were smaller. This
negative relationship between fertility and education remained
significant in about 40 per cent of the countries studied, after
controlling for duration of marriage, urban/rural residence, wife's
occupation and husband's education. In addition, in both bivariate
and multivariate analyses the relationship between desired family size
and education was consistently monotonically negative, and that
between contraceptive use and education was similarly positive

It is generally assumed that education leads to contraceptive use. Comparing fertility

change, education and family planning in a global sample over two time periods, 1962-

1972 and 1972-1981, Hess found that:

Nearly 60 percent of the total variation in the percentage change in the
total fertility rate for the sample of 49 LDCs is accounted for in the
first period. The key influence again appears to be the change in the
female secondary school enrollment rate.... In the second period
over 70 percent of the variation in fertility change is accounted for by
the model, and the most important factor is family planning program
effort (1988:6).

In another global sample, Wheeler (1985) found secondary school enrollment rates for

females and family planning efforts to be highly significant in explaining the percentage

change in fertility during the 1970s. The delayed reaction of fertility decline in this study is

explained in part by the time it takes for family planning to be accepted and widely adopted

(Mauldin and Berelson 1978). Increases in adult literacy has also been found to negatively

correlate with fertility in a global sample of contemporary developing countries (Boulier


As previously noted mentalist and materialist analysis of similar data usually lead to

different causal interpretations. Following mentalist epistemological assumptions,

demographic transition theorists usually interpret negative correlations between fertility and

female secondary education to mean that education causes lower fertility. The causal role of

education in reducing fertility is imputed, and rarely doubted. For example, citing negative

correlations between fertility and female education in Latin America and Asia, while

ignoring findings which show no correlation between fertility and increases in female

secondary education in Africa and the Middle East, Hess (1988:141) concludes that

education causes fertility decline "given the strong negative effects of secondary school

enrollments on fertility found in this and other studies." Ignoring the effects of a quarter-

century of material change, Hess ibidd: 137) writes, "In Latin America the key factor

generating the fertility declines over the last 25 years seems to be gains in secondary female

enrollment rates. For the more egalitarian nations of Asia, early and strong family planning

programs are the driving force."

Contrary to the pervasive mentalist analytical bias, research into the effects of education

and family planning on fertility have been far from conclusive. Data which disputes the

causal effects of family planning on fertility decline have been provided above (see chapter

3). Positive and negative correlations between education and fertility have been found in

historical and contemporary data (for an overview, see Hawthorne 1970; Graff 1979;

Cochrane 1983).

Inconsistencies were first discovered in research at micro levels of analysis, e.g.,

households, which called into question findings derived from aggregate measures (such as

those used in the WFS). After comparing findings from different research designs, Graff

(1979:132) has observed, "The higher the level of aggregation and the further the data are

removed from the level of individuals, families or households, the higher the degree of


In more narrowly designed historical studies of United States fertility behavior (at the

household or individual level of analysis), education has been shown to be a less important

predictor of fertility decline than traditional wisdom has expected (Easterlin 1976b; Leet

1976). T. Paul Schultz (1973) has found a positive correlation between fertility and

education in Taiwan. Indeed, what explains the post-World War II baby boom in the West

where fertility and educational levels (for both men and women) reached new heights?

Research in developing countries has indicated there may be a nonlinear relationship

between education and fertility. Levine (1984) has shown that women with some primary

schooling display shorter birth intervals and higher fertility than those without primary

school experience (also see Cleland and Rodriguez 1987). Gueye and van de Walle

(1988:3.3.5) have recently observed that, "there is increasing evidence in sub-Saharan

Africa that unmarried high school students are more likely to get pregnant than their

uneducated counterparts." Hess (1988:63) also found that, "For sub-Saharan African

nations, higher enrollment rates in secondary education for women were associated with

higher fertility."

The reason for this is probably that women with some education tend to engage in

better health practices, enter into more stable marital unions, ignore traditional prohibitions

on sexual intercourse, and are more knowledgeable about food supplements. By weaning

their babies earlier these women shorten the duration of postpartum ammenorhea and

therefore are exposed to the risk of pregnancy sooner than less educated women (see Nag

1980). However, during the course of a lifetime, it is clear that African women with at least

secondary school education who go on to gainful employment have fewer children than

their uneducated counterparts (see p.82).

Statistical analysis provides correlations between variables, not answers to questions of

causation. It is theoretically and empirically challenging to determine what causes

something to happen, and what the new happening itself causes. This is especially difficult

when economic change, increasing levels of education, contraceptive use, urbanization,

improvements in health care, female employment outside the household, domestic equality,

etc., occur simultaneously with fertility transition.

Fortunately, some causal explanations are more credible than others. For example,

people in developing countries don't migrate to urban areas because there are better

schools, they migrate because there is the possibility of a better life---better jobs! Parents

don't send their children to school to become more educated farmers and seamstresses,

they send their children to school so they can get a higher paying job in the modem sector,

which in turn, is expected to materially benefit the family. Women don't use contraceptives

because education made them less religious or more rational, they control fertility because

childbearing is incompatible with their desire to complete school and to pursue the

employment opportunities their advanced education will offer them.

Women weigh the opportunity costs of their reproductive careers against opportunities

in their productive careers in developing countries just as women do in developed

countries. According to evolutionary demographic transition theory, Pleistocene women

also weighed the costs and benefits of reproduction. Attitudes, values, opinions and beliefs

may vary, but fertility behavior is contingent upon material costs and benefits to individuals

(especially women). The most important factor, in this regard, is how people are able to

survive, or earn a living.

Employment and Fertility

Female labor participation was first considered a fertility determinant in the early 1960s

(see Colliver and Langlois 1962). But female labor participation has been found to be an

unreliable cause of fertility decline. High fertility regimes coincide with high female labor

participation rates in preindustrial and protoindustrial populations, such as those in

historical England or contemporary Africa (Handwerker 1989:23-24). Female labor

participation is not a necessary condition for fertility declines in Asia or a sufficient

condition in West Africa (Birdsall 1977; 1983). After surveying the data on female labor

participation and fertility cross-culturally, Faroog and DeGraff (1988:42) agree that, "no

conclusive relationship between women's work participation and fertility is evident for

developing countries."

Some research has suggested that increased income from employment that does not

interfere with childrearing may actually increase fertility (Ware 1977; Bindary et al. 1973;

Goldstein 1972; Pinelli 1971). Neither employment or fertility is restricted for women who

can rely on child care provided by their extended family (Mueller 1982:82). But extended

family time interchanges diminish and kinship groups shrink as economic and geographical

mobility increases (Oppong 1982). Thus, economic changes which create incentives for

migration and more employment opportunities for women to work outside the household

also selects for the nuclearization of the family. The cost of children increases for women

who are unable to depend on child care provided by their extended family.

In Puerto Rico and Japan, Jaffe and Azumi (1960) found that fertility was equally high

for women working in "cottage industries" and those "economically inactive"; only women

who worked away from home had lower fertility. In Thailand, Chalamwong (1983) has

also found higher fertility among women engaged in "home industry" and lower fertility

among women working outside the home. These data suggest that women's employment

participation and level of income may not lower fertility independent of the effects of

working away from home. Indeed, there is increasing evidence which suggests that there is

lower fertility when childrearing is incompatible with employment.

The opportunity cost of children is low for women doing agricultural work; it is high

for women engaged in work that is incompatible with child care. In a cross-sectional

analysis of sixty developing countries, controlling for urbanization, industrialization and

education, Kasarda (1971) found an inverse relationship between fertility and the

employment of women outside the home. In an Indian village, Gupta (1978) found that

fertility declined with the expansion of urban, industrial, technical, and white-collar

employment opportunities outside the village. Conversely, studies suggest fertility will

increase when woman are excluded from wage-labor or have little job occupational mobility

(Tien 1967). Several studies have found a fertility inhibiting relationship in formal sector

work outside the home before marriage (Standing 1978; Rosen and Simmons 1971; Zarate


These studies suggest that women's employment away from the home lowers fertility.

This is because modem employment (away from the home) is more time/money oriented

and inherently less compatible with child care than traditional work roles (in and around the

home). In addition, sociocultural influences, competitive consumer attitudes and non-

traditional norms about marriage and family are more prevalent in a modem urban work

group atmosphere. If this is true, it is important to understand how constraints to these

opportunities effect fertility.

Besides the pervasive constraint of a stagnant economy, there are at least two other

primary factors that limit women's work participation outside the home: 1) child labor; and,

2) job and educational discrimination.

Entrepreneurs hire persons who are least likely to cause labor problems. For the

entrepreneur in developing countries, there is no incentive to hire one person over another

for many unskilled positions; keeping payrolls low is the primary concern. Thus, children

are often the preferred worker. Children got paid as much as adults in England during the

1820s. This encourages parents to let children leave school at a young age to work for

wages. In turn, this decreases the number of jobs unskilled adult women might find in the

labor market.

Standing (1983:532) asserts, "The substitution of women for child workers could be

expected to reduce fertility in two ways: by raising the costs of children and by raising the

opportunity costs of women's inactivity." It can be inferred that the institutionalization and

enforcement of child labor laws would impact on the availability of employment outside the

home for women, thus, creating conditions that select for lower fertility.

On the second point, Standing (1983:529-530) observes, "Discrimination against

women in the labor force has received relatively little attention in the fertility literature.

However, it can have a significant affect because it alters the opportunity costs of

childbearing and childrearing." Employment discrimination also leads to educational

discrimination because parents invest more in the education of children they expect will

earn more in the labor market. Thus, economic opportunities impact on female educational

attainment (see Greenhalgh 1985).

In Pakistan, Sather et al. (1988:420) observe, "Whereas the effect of women's

education on fertility diminishes when other independent factors are controlled, the

opposite applies in the case of women's occupation." This may be because education loses

value for women under conditions of employment discrimination. Employment

discrimination will persist as long as there are no productive incentives to hire women

instead of children and men. Therefore, without economic changes that result in increasing

rewards for skilled workers, the education and employment of women will be discouraged

and fertility decline will be inhibited. Handwerker writes,

To bear on fertility, increasing levels of education must be
accompanied by increasing economic rewards. There will be
increasing economic returns from education only in the presence of
competition that selects for both employer and employee
productivity.... Female labor participation rates have no bearing on
fertility transition in the absence of economic and social processes
that create new and competitive resource access channels (1989:23-

As we have seen, in an analysis of the economic aspects of historical demographic

change in Europe, McGreevey (1985) found that fertility decline was associated with rising

agricultural productivity and a shrinking farm labor force. He argues that economic and

demographic transition was caused by the introduction of labor-saving farm technologies,

which made child labor redundant, and by the expansion of non-agricultural employment

opportunities, which gave women jobs outside the household. McGreevey notes:

Women left unpaid family labor on farms to work in offices,
factories and shops; this shift depressed fertility as jobs interfered
with child care. Jobs for children were fewer in urban than in rural
settings, so more children attended school, and most parents decided
to have fewer but better-educated children. The Europeans thus
escaped the Malthusian trap (1985:vii).

The research cited above suggests that infrastructural economic change may be a

prerequisite to demographic transition. Just as during the first demographic transition, new

modes of production bring new modes of reproduction. Productive employment that is

incompatible with childrearing changes the costs and benefits of childbearing. Increasing

demand for skilled versus unskilled labor changes the costs and benefits of hiring women

versus children; these labor demands encourage parents to invest in the education of their

children in hopes that one day they will have the qualifications for employment in the

modem sector. Parents are also less likely to advance the education of their sons at the

expense of their daughters. Under these new contingencies of reinforcement, women are

more likely to share equally with men in educational opportunities, stay in school longer

and use contraception in order to avoid the costs of an unwanted pregnancy. Also, adult

women will increasingly weigh the costs and benefits of their reproductive careers against

their employment careers. This is precisely what is occurring around the world in countries

that are experiencing fertility decline.

Transition in Zimbabwe

More than one-third of Zimbabwean women between the ages 40-49 have given birth to

ten or more children (ZDHS 1989:33). This will not be true for women presently entering

their reproductive years. Indeed, World Bank (1989a) data shows that the total fertility rate

(TFR) of Zimbabwe has declined dramatically since the late 1960s, down from 8 to 5.7

during this period. Zimbabwe is the first sub-Saharan African country to experience

sustained fertility decline. The overwhelming tendency today in Zimbabwe is toward more

anti-natal cultural perspectives and behaviors.

The onset of fertility transition in Zimbabwe corresponds with war migration and rapid

industrialization between 1965-1974. "Economic growth in Zimbabwe averaged about 7

percent per year between 1965-1974" (PFD 1985:82). United Nations sanctions on the

government of Rhodesia during this period forced Colonial Zimbabwe into a development

policy of import substitution. Funded by South African banking interests, the industrial

sector of the economy grew dramatically, offering more jobs to whites and blacks, men and

women. Today, behind South Africa, Zimbabwe is the most industrialized country in sub-

Saharan Africa.

After independence in 1979, the maintenance of fertility transition corresponds with a

continued expansion of economic opportunities, a dramatic growth in educational

opportunities, rapid urbanization, and increased contraceptive use. Except for a four year

period, during the height of the war, the Zimbabwean economy has continued to diversify

and grow rapidly. Between 1976 and 1986 there was an almost four fold increase in the

GDP, from $2.1 billion to $7.5 billion dollars (QDS 1989:14). Zimbabwe's GDP is

composed of agriculture (16%), mining (8%), manufacturing (22%), infrastructure and

producer services (20%), and government expenditures (34%) (GOZ 1986:5). This

diversified economic growth has translated into substantial increases in skilled employment

opportunities for both men and women.

Comparing 1982 Census data (Population Census 1982) with the 1986/87 Labour

Force Survey (LFS 1989:6), there has been an increase in the labor force of nearly 800,000

people, 40 percent of whom were women. In 1982, women constituted 52 percent of all

sales workers, 40 percent of professional and technical workers, 34 percent of clerical

workers, and 32 percent of service workers (GOZ 1986:126). The number of women

employed by the public sector (mostly as teachers) increased from 3,243 in 1980 to 10,228

in 1983 (Kazembe 1987:397-398). Women are now being encouraged to train as

agricultural extension workers and officers, and to become more active in trade union

activities and economic cooperatives. Increased opportunities for women in rural areas have

spurred changes in fertility and economic production. "Maize production quadrupled after

women's access to land, agricultural training and credit was improved. And this is one

reason Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of family planning usage and the lowest

infant mortality rates in Africa" (UNFPA 1988:57).

These economic incentives have had a dramatic effect on educational enrollment and

achievement. In 1979, 890,000 students were enrolled in primary and secondary schools,

but by 1982, school enrollments more than doubled to 2,160,000. Among all Zimbabwean

women between the ages 15-49, 14 percent have no formal education, 56 percent have at

least some primary education, and 31 percent have reached secondary school. These

figures are changing rapidly. Today, over 28 percent of women in their forties have never

been to school, but fewer than 3 percent of their 15-19 year old counterparts have not;

about one-half of the women under age 25 have reached secondary school compared with

only about 10 percent of their mothers (PFD 1985:35-46). Urban women are three times

more likely than rural women to have obtained at least some secondary education (33.1%

versus 10.7%).

The dramatic growth of educational involvement after independence reflects a general

optimism that jobs would increasingly be available on an equal basis to all citizens if they

had the educational qualifications to fill them. In order to stay in school, more Zimbabwean

women delay childbearing; the age at first birth has risen by about one year during the past


But women began controlling their fertility before mass education and modem

contraceptives were readily available. In response to increased demand for modem methods

of birth control, the first national family planning body was formed as early as 1965; by

1976, it was estimated that 5,500 new clients asked for contraceptives each month and that

80,000 to 90,000 Zimbabwean women were involved in family planning in some capacity

(Weinrich (1982:121).

Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in contraceptive use. Since the Zimbabwe

National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC 1985) survey, completed in 1984, there has

been a 16 percent increase in "ever use" of modem methods; currently nearly one-third of

all women, and 43 percent of married women are using some form of birth control. This is

the highest rate of contraceptive use in continental Sub-Saharan Africa.

Statistically, educational status and fertility have an inverse relationship. The children

ever born to women who never attended school is 7.0, for women with primary education

it is 6.0, and for women with a secondary education it is 3.8. The difference in

contraceptive use between women with no formal education and those with secondary or

higher education is 23 percentage points (ZDHS 1989:5).

However, among teenagers, "The proportion currently pregnant with the first child

varies little with educational level" (ibid:38). Contraception is increasingly being used by

women with little or no education. Between 1984 and 1988, the contraceptive use of all

methods among women who never attended school increased from 25 percent to 32

percent; the increase was from 16 percent to 25 percent for modem methods (ibid:57). In

the 1989 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey it was discovered:

there is almost no difference in the mean number of children ever
born between the two lowest educational groups, and the difference
in the mean number of women who never attended school and the
women with some secondary education is only slightly more than
two children. This suggests that the fertility decline in Zimbabwe
began with women who had at least some secondary education and
only recently spread to women with less education. The current
downward trend in fertility appears to be shared fairly equally by all
educational groups, with the relative decrease in the TFR between
1982-1984 and 1985-1988 periods being only slightly smaller for
women with no education (16 percent) as compared to the other
groups (20 percent) (ZDHS 1989:28-29).

In addition to being correlated with educational achievement, fertility control is strongly

correlated with settlement type. The urban population grew approximately 5.6 percent per

year between 1969-1982 (PFD 1985:23). Today, about one-fourth of the population of

Zimbabwe lives in urban areas where more skilled employment opportunities encourage

parents to support their daughters education and young women to delay childbearing and

stay in school longer. In urban areas 51 percent of all women have reached secondary

school as opposed to only 20 percent of their rural counterparts; the difference in

contraceptive use between women living in urban versus rural areas is 12 percent (ZDHS


With aggregate data, it is difficult to tell whether settlement type (and employment

opportunities) or level of education is more causally important in reducing fertility.

However, since employment opportunities are largely responsible for urban migration, and

urbanization is correlated with increased education and contraceptive use, a strong case can

be made for economic causal factors in fertility decline.

In a recent small sample (n= 103) study in urban Harare, I asked respondents questions

rating childbearing desires versus career goals. I concluded:

Education clearly plays some role in lowering total fertility. It gives
women expectations for a better life and skills with which to get the
better jobs that provide a better life. Nevertheless, the hypothesis that
education plays a paramount role in reducing fertility is not supported
by my data. Indeed, independent of level of education, women in my
sample who value career over childbearing are more likely (p<.05) to
desire 4 or fewer children than are women who value having children
over career or women who value career and childbearing equally
(chi-square p=.02) (Iverson 1990:14).

Increased opportunities for female employment increases career incentives and reduces

fertility. The opportunity costs of childbearing to women who have modem sector

employment skills are much greater than for those women with no such skills or


The results of an important longitudinal study (1984-1988) of 1183 Zimbabwean

women support these propositions. In that sample of women, 84 percent had attained

secondary education, 73 percent were employed (81 percent of the employed were engaged

in clerical positions and 19 percent in technical, professional, and managerial positions).

Among the women in this sample, the TFR was 3.38, about half the national rate of 6.52

(TIPPS Project 1988).

Ironically, women who complete secondary education had their first child earlier than

those who do not complete secondary school. This is consistent with data from other

African countries (see p.72). But by 24 years of age, the TFR is about equal; by age 29,

the employed cohort in the sample had already given birth, on average, to over one fewer

child. This difference continues to grow as the population gets older. By age 39, the

gainfully employed women had more than two fewer births; by age 49, at the end of their

reproductive period, these employed women had given birth to about 3.5 fewer children

than women in the general population.

Without data from a control group of women who are educated but were not employed,

it is impossible to determine the independent effects of education and employment on

fertility from this study. However, the changing age cohort data suggests that modem

sector employment (outside the home) has a significant effect on fertility. In a small sample

survey, Mazur found that urban women, age 30 and up, who worked at home, had about

two more children on average than those who worked away from home (Mazur and Mhloyi


Since the dramatic fertility decline that began in the mid- 1960s, Zimbabwean women

have increasingly sought to limit births. The above data indicates that fertility decline began

in the 1960s, before modern methods of contraception were introduced in the 1970s, and

before mass education in the 1980s. Fertility decline is correlated with infrastructural

change and greater economic opportunities for men and women. The colonial policy of

import substitution resulted in rapidly increasing employment opportunities in the industrial

sector. Increased private and public sector demands for skilled workers and technicians led

to new educational and employment opportunities for men and women immediately

following independence. Fertility declined as Zimbabwe passed through these

infrastructural economic changes, and has continued to decline in the present.

Transition in Barbados

Fertility transition in Barbados has been even more dramatic than in Zimbabwe. The

total fertility rate in Barbados fell from around 5.0 in the mid-1950s to a low of about 2.0

in 1980, where it has remained to the present. Handwerker (1989) has shown that

historical declines in fertility correspond with the decline of the sugar industry and a

dramatic growth in industrial manufacturing and tourist spending.

The sugar industry had been the backbone of the Barbadian economy since the

Eighteenth Century. However, when the United Kingdom ceased acting as clearing house

for West Indian sugar in 1951, Barbadian producers found themselves under increased

competitive pressure from world markets. Between 1950 and 1980, sugar production

factories declined from 34 to 8, and sugar's share of the gross domestic output dropped

from 40 percent to 6 percent; sugar accounted for less than 10 percent of national

employment by 1980 (Handwerker 1989:97).

In response to the decline in the sugar industry, Barbados began to actively pursue an

export-driven development policy. The export-driven development model was pioneered by

Tiawan and other East-Asian countries (which, incidently, have also undergone

infrastructural economic transformation and dramatic fertility declines). Protective tariffs

and incentive legislation at home, combined with a readily accessible wealthy consumer

market for its products in the United States, propelled Barbados into the manufacturing


In the 1950s and 1960s, the export-driven manufacturing sector grew to include

garments, furniture, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, phonograph records, wood processing,

paints, and a variety of construction materials; in the 1970s, the manufacturing sector

expanded further to include petroleum refining, paper products, data processing and

electronics components assembly (ibid:98-99).

During this period ofinfrastructural economic change, new jobs were created which

demanded new skills of the Barbadian work force; the labor market increasingly rewarded

acquired skills and perspectives, thus minimizing the value of child labor and improving the

employment opportunities for skilled women (also see Handwerker 1986a:400).

Handwerker writes:

Growth in manufacturing did not change the female work
participation rate. However, it radically changed the work
opportunities available for women. Whereas in 1946 female
employment in manufacturing was 14.4% of the labor force (and
even then it was employment only in cottage industry crafts), by
the late 1970s women held more than 50% of the jobs in the
manufacturing sector (1989:99).

The establishment of a tourist marketing board in the 1950s, fiscal incentives, and its

close proximity to the wealthy United States tourist market contributed to a dramatic growth

in the tourist industry in Barbados. The growing tourist industry added more service, white

collar, professional, and managerial jobs. Women were favored over children and could

compete on a more equal basis with men for these positions. The correlation between

economic change and antinatalist values and behaviors is evident in table 4.2.

1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980
Period Total Fertility 4.9 4.8 4.4 3.9 3.1 2.3
Growth of Industrial
Manufacturing (100=1980) 38 41 61 68 87 100
Growth of Tourist
Spending (100= 1980) 8 15 29 70 61 100
Women Who View Childbearing
as an Investment Activity* (%) 70 67 53 43 25 17
Women aged 20-24 who
Completed Secondary School (%) 4 19 20 32 33 52
*This index measures women's desire to put childbearing ahead of career.
(Source: Compiled from Handwerker 1989:27, 98, 100, 104, 117, 15-22)

More nonagricultural economic opportunities based outside the home and on skill and

performance (instead of on paternalism) resulted in more egalitarian power relations

between the sexes and more opportunities for women to pursue goals independently of

their childbearing capacity. Increasing meritocratic access to economic opportunities created

the material incentives for women to achieve in school and to practice fertility control. With

economic independence from children and men, women could chart the course of their lives

in new ways. Increasingly, women are valuing productive over reproductive careers, and

selecting to have fewer children.

Transition in Mauritius

Mauritius has experienced social and political change similar to Zimbabwe's. Though

Mauritius did not undergo a prolonged civil war as did Zimbabwe, political liberation in the

spring of 1968 was largely the result of opposition to the socially and fiscally conservative

economic policies of the past. As in Zimbabwe, political liberation created expectations for

more economic and educational opportunities.

Mauritius has experienced strikingly similar economic and demographic change to

Barbados. Twenty years ago, Benedict (1972:248) wrote, The island is entirely

dependent on agriculture, and one crop, sugar, accounts for more than 97 per cent of all

exports." Today, Mauritius is in the midst of changing from a sugar-based plantation

economy to a diversified modem economy. As sugar production and export stagnated in

the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mauritius began to focus on other sectors of the economy

for growth potential. The diversification of the Mauritian economy and the promotion of

tourism, led to the creation of skilled jobs in the modem sector of the economy and to a

decline in agricultural employment. Table 4.3 shows changing employment trends since


TABLE: 4.3
(thousands) EXPORT HOTELS
1970 61 ---- 1
1975 64 10 2
1980 58 22 3
1985 53 50 4
1990 46 91 6
(Source: Bowman 1991:115)

The Mauritian economy grew rapidly after independence because of three principle

factors: 1) generous trade preferences granted by developed countries; 2) a ready supply of

cheap and relatively skilled labor encouraged foreign investment; and, 3) beautiful beaches

provided wealthy European and South African tourists with a unique Holiday environment.

Trade preferences gave Mauritius a competitive advantage in markets in the developed

world; the largest importers of Mauritian textiles and other products were European

Economic Community (EEC) countries and the United States. These trade preferences

stimulated the development of Export Processing Zones (EPZ) and the dramatic increase of

light manufacturing businesses. The EPZ began functioning in 1971. Between 1971 and

1988, the number of EPZ firms grew from 9 to 591; total exports increased from 4 million

rupees to over 8 trillion rupees (Bowman 1991:127).

This EPZ growth created a dramatic increase in modem sector employment. By 1976,

85 new enterprises provided skilled and semi-skilled jobs to over 17,000 employees

(mostly to female textile workers). In the early 1970s, the government created about

20,000 public sector jobs. Between 1971 and 1975, GNP grew 10 percent per year and

modern sector employment grew 5.5 percent per year; in total, between 1971 and 1977,

64,000 new jobs were created ibidd: 114-116).

Rapidly growing tourism also brought foreign currency into the national market and

created skilled employment opportunities. In 1968 only 15,553 tourists visited Mauritius,

but after the opening of a new international airport capable of handling jumbo jets, by the

late 1970s over 100,000 tourists visited Mauritius annually. In 1989, almost 300,000

tourists arrived in Mauritius ibidd: 134).

The growth of light industry and tourism led to a dramatic increase in employment

opportunities in the modern sector for both men and women of all ethnic backgrounds.

Less than twenty-five years ago the Titmuss Commission and the Meade Report

complained that there was a lack of social and economic mobility (Titmuss and Smith 1961;

Meade 1961). Both studies concluded that social and economic resources were wasted

because ethnicity was a more important criteria than ability (Benedict 1972:257). These

problems have been minimized by economic changes which have selected for skilled labor;

increasingly ability has replaced ethnicity and gender as a criteria for employment.

This trend has continued to the present. Today, Mauritius is called the 'little tiger" in

deference to the "four tigers" of East Asia (Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong

Kong), and there is much speculation that Mauritius hopes to become the 'Hong Kong' of

the Indian Ocean. A comparison of economic change and demographic transition for these

four countries reveals strikingly similar trends. It was observed in a recent World Bank


Examination of the accelerated sectoral shifts of employment in recent
years provides ample evidence of the extent to which the Mauritian
economy is approaching the status of a newly industrializing country.
The share of employment provided in the agricultural sector dropped
from one-quarter to one-fifth within the space of four years [1984-
1988], while employment in the two major export crops sugar and
tea continued to record significantly declining trends. In contrast,
over 20 percent of the increase in jobs took place in the transport,
trade, hotel and restaurant sectors which perhaps are among the most
directly affected by the expanding exports of manufacturers and the
burgeoning tourist industry (World Bank 1989b:58).

In addition to ethnic minorities, the largest benefactors of this sectoral redeployment of

labor have been women. Between 1972 and 1987, the total number of women entering the

labor force increased 320 percent compared with 57 percent for men; the female labor force

participation rate (by percentage of total labor force) has more than doubled. Forty-two

percent of Mauritian women were at work (outside the home) in the modern sector in 1987.

This is comparable to the female labor force participation rate of developed countries. Table

4.4 provides data on employment by gender in Mauritius.

TABLE: 4.4
(M=Males; F=Females) 1972 1987
Employed (1,000) 169 44 213 265 141 406
Participation Rate (%) 83 20 52 82 42 62
(Source: Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, Human
Resources Division, adapted from Table 5.1 in World Bank 1989b:58)

This trend has accelerated recently. The World Bank reports:

Indeed, one of the most prominent and significant features of the
Mauritian development in recent years is the extent to which it has
been dependent upon drawing women into the labor market. Of the
overall increase in employment between 1983 and 1987 of some
124,000 workers, roughly 40 percent reflects increases in the

participation of women and about 38 percent is accounted for by the
reduction in unemployment. Growth in the working-age population
and increased male participation rates contributed only 16 percent and
less that 6 percent respectively (ibid:57).

As in Zimbabwe and Barbados, Mauritian women were encouraged to control fertility

and to obtain more education in order to meet new employment opportunities. Table 4.5

shows the concomitant educational advancement of women in the work force between 1972

and 1983.

TABLE: 4.5
1972 1983 1972 1983 1972 1983
(percentages) (15-24) (25-44) (45-64)
Nil 6 14 2 3 15 42 6 20 29 60 22 54
Primary 60 46 48 46 60 36 49 39 63 33 63 35
Secondary 33 39 49 50 22 20 39 34 6 6 12 10
Tertiary 1 1 1 1 3 2 6 6 2 1 3 2
(Source: Central Statistics Office, 1983 Housing and Population Census of Mauritius.
Analysis Report, Volume IV (April 1987), Table 4.3, p.60., 12 from Table 5.5 in World
Bank 1989b:58)

This table lends itself to some interesting retrodictive interpretations. Since fulfillment

of primary and secondary education is usually completed before or about the same time one

reaches childbearing age, it can be inferred that in 1983 over 90 percent of the women

reaching childbearing age had obtained at least a primary education and about 50 percent

had reached secondary school. Between 1945-1965, one-half to three-quarters of Mauritian

women reaching childbearing age had obtained a primary school education. During these

20 years the number of Mauritian women of childbearing age who had completed

secondary school increased almost 3-1/2 times, from 12 to 40 percent; by 1983, more

women than men were completing secondary degrees.

Dramatic infrastructural economic change in the 1970s and 1980s led to rising

educational expectations and demographic transition. Dramatic fertility decline is reflected

in table 4.6.

TABLE: 4.6
1952 44.3 --
1962 38.5 -13.1
1972 24.8 -35.6
1987 19.1 -16.9*
Calculated from 1983 data when the crude birth rate is reported at 20.6
(Source: Central Statistics Office, Digest of Demographic Statistics, 1987,
found in World Bank 1989b: 111)

This data suggests that the Mauritian demographic transition began as early as the

1950s, before the introduction of modem methods of birth control; transition increased in

the 1960s, and has continued to the present. Population growth in Mauritius fell from an

annual rate of 3 percent in the 1950s and early 1960s to around 1.5 percent by the early

1970s. Today, the natural rate of population increase is about 1.25 percent; when

accounting for net emigration, the Mauritian population is presently growing at less than 1

percent per year. This is in sharp contrast to Benedict's dire conclusion twenty years ago:

In many ways Mauritius can be viewed as a microcosm of the earth's
population problem. The eradication of disease and improved health
services have led to an unprecedented increase in population, which
continues to grow at a dangerous rate. This population growth has
outstripped the country's ability to support itself. Unemployment is
rife and increasing, and this is leading to political unrest.... It is
probably too late to avoid a demographic disaster in Mauritius, and
the rest of the world may have to rescue this island people from the
consequences of their overbreeding (1972:275).

Since Benedict's field research, infrastructural economic change has occurred in

Mauritius and created a series of events which have led to fertility transition. With a

growing demand for skilled workers, employers selected women over children and on a

more equal basis with men than ever before. This led to the employment of women in jobs

away from the household; child labor also became less valued. Increasing meritocratic

access to economic opportunities created the material incentives for parents to support their

children through school and for women to achieve in school and to practice fertility control.

More nonagricultural economic opportunities based on skill and performance resulted in

more egalitarian power relations between the sexes and more opportunities for women to

pursue goals independently of their childbearing capacity. Increasingly, women began to

weigh the opportunity costs of their reproductive careers against the growing potential of

their productive careers. As a result of these changes, parents stressed educational

advancement for their daughters and young career oriented women had fewer children.

Transition in Kuwait

Women living in Arab Islamic states traditionally have enjoyed little autonomy. In some

states women are considered the property of men; their primary role is that of childbearer.

Marshall (1984:499) notes: "Muslim women have been less involved in traditional

agricultural and trading activities and have significantly lower rates of literacy, educational

achievement, nonagricultural labor force participation than women in other developing

areas at similar levels of industrialization." It is not surprising that, "Among less developed

countries today, fertility/per capita-income groupings show Moslem countries to be

atypical, having high fertility across a broad range of income levels" (Donaldson 1991:9).

Indeed, Reeves asserts:

Reactionary religious forces within these societies do all they can to
prevent women from attaining greater social status. Ideally they
would like to see women back in harems where they believe women
belong, fulfilling purely domestic responsibilities and acting as
pleasure objects and reproductive machines (1989:29).

However, even in traditionally male dominated Arab Islamic societies, when women

have more equal access to employment and education, they are treated less as submissive

objects and more as equal subjects. In spite of cultural obstacles, women everywhere are

less likely to be treated as "pleasure objects" and "reproductive machines" when outside

economic opportunities free them from domestic bondage and dependence on men and

children for their well-being. As women gain better access to resources and contribute more

to family income they attain greater power vis-a-vis men in making reproductive decisions.

These changes are beginning to be felt in some Arab Islamic countries. Reeves

(1989:28-29) divides the Arab Islamic states into two general categories based on treatment

of women. First, there are the states where seclusion and veiling are strictly practiced and

where women have few if any rights. These states include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the

United Arab Emirates, Yemen Arab Republic, and Mauritania. Second, there are the states

where a combination of religious and secular law prevails and women have acquired some

rights. These states include Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco,

and Somalia.

Among this group, the women of Kuwait stand out as demographic innovators in a

region slow to change. Following the causal arguments provided in previous sections, it is

not surprising that the women of Kuwait have fewer children and more economic

independence than most of their Arab Islamic sisters. Economic change has benefited the

educational and economic aspirations of Kuwaiti women more than women in any other

Islamic country. The comparatively lower total fertility rate of Kuwait among other Middle

Eastern countries is one result of the growing social and economic independence of

Kuwaiti women. Table 4.7 compares the total fertility rate of Kuwait with several other

Middle Eastern countries.

TABLE: 4.7
Country TFR Country TFR
Saudi Arabia 7.1 Jordon 5.8
Iraq 6.7 Iran 5.6
Syria 6.2 Kuwait 4.6
(Source: Zachariah and Vu 1989)

Women's roles changed with changing modes of production and the economic

development of Kuwait. The speed ofinfrastructural economic change in Kuwait was

unprecedented. Kuwait acquired in a generation the level of economic transformation it

took the developed countries a century or more of struggle to achieve.

When oil was first discovered in 1938, Kuwait was a poor Shaykhdom whose people

secured a meager subsistence by herding, fishing, pearling, and trading. Haifa century

later, the grandchildren of simple Bedouins have become international bankers and the

people of Kuwait enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world. In FY 1939

the average per capital income was US$35; by 1981, GDP on a per capital basis was about

US$16,500--the highest in the world (Nyrop 1985:91-92). "Few if any persons are below

the absolute poverty level and malnutrition has been effectively eliminated" (Country

Reports 1986:1296).

The transformation of Kuwait into a major oil exporter began after the end of the

Second World War. Between 1946 and 1957, oil exports rose from 800,000 tons to 55

million tons, making Kuwait the second largest oil exporter in the world (behind

Venezuela). From 1955 to 1965 Kuwaits oil revenues grew at an average rate of 10 percent

per year. Profits have skyrocketed since the early 1970s, after the Organization of

Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed, and have remained high.

With the influx of oil revenues after the Second World War, Kuwait has aggressively

constructed a modern infrastructure. i.e., electricity, piped water and sewage, a huge

desalination system, modern housing, schools, and hospitals, deep-water ports, airports,

and paved roads. However, the lack of metallic minerals, the small size of its domestic

market, and the high cost of labor has limited industrial investment and development. Oil

revenues have allowed Kuwait to develop its infrastructure and social welfare system

without the development of a substantial industrial base. Industry (excluding oil refining,