Baby boom or doom?

POPULATION, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND THE ENVIRONMENT Edited by Kerstin Lindahl-Kiessling and Hans Landberg Oxford University Press

By Kishore Jethanandani
Published: Sunday 31 December 1995

WESTERN and 'civilised' notions concerning the relation between population patterns and economic status may seem to dominate our world-view today. This book exposes and seeks to counter the rather inadequate and insensitive understanding of the motivation for child bearing in the developing world.

Anthropologist Caroline Blendsoe has produced a fascinating analysis of reproductive behaviour in Africa. At first glance, it may seem rather irrational that the poor decide to have so many children but closer analysis reveals that it is a conscious and well planned strategy on their part.

The reproductive behaviour of the poor has been compared to the portfoliqQr- management techniques adopted by sophisticate financial analysts on Wall Street. Just as investment managers buy a diverse range of stocks when risks are highr the poor prefer to have many children when they perceiv a greater thre V at to their sur vival. Investment analyst keep an eye on prospects anoenlarge their commitment in specific @tocks when the0m sense an upsurge in thel'ir profitability.

Similarly, the poor carefully calculate the expenditure on each child depending on their assessment of th potential of each child. The poor have an instinctive I."t for survival in a peri 'Ou world where famines in wars are a common oc rence. Unlike in the civil", world, insurance and social security are alien concepts the poor.

From the individual'om perspective it seems to be a sane response to the uncertainties of an underptivileged Clule'sce. However, viewed other angles, such a 1y has its ill-effects par kwarly on the environment !Wkh has a limited and finite cl acZ If carried to the Nktp,em I extensive and iffeparable ecological dam- be would result. A less tragic but, nonetheless, ruinous DOnsequence is the diversion of savings meant for invest'in technology towards td care, while the former &uld also serve the purpose of promoting human jbitource development.

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