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Fertility and Public Policy

JOHN BONGAARTS


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Fertility levels vary widely between contemporary populations, from a high of 7.6 births per woman in Niger to a low of 0.9 in Macao (United Nations, 2013). These levels are largely the result of decisions made by couples who are trying to maximize their families’ welfare. In the least developed countries, fertility is high because children are valued for the social and economic benefits they provide to their families, and the cost of childbearing and rearing is typically low. In contrast, in the most industrialized countries, couples want and have small families because the value of children is relatively low and their costs are high. However, the fertility that results from this parental decision-making is not necessarily optimal from a societal point of view, thus suggesting a potential role for government intervention. Many governments regard the fertility level of their countries as unsatisfactory. A worldwide survey of population policies undertaken in 2009 by the United Nations found that, among the least developed countries, the vast majority of governments (86 percent) considered their fertility too high. In contrast, 61 per cent of the governments of developed countries considered their fertility too low (United Nations, 2011). A range of public policies has been developed and implemented in response to these concerns. In the 1950s and 1960s declines in mortality caused ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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