Key takeaways

  • • Population growth varies dramatically between low-income and high-income countries.
  • • In the economic model of fertility, parents select family size by maximizing utility subject to constraints on their resources. This results in their trading off having children against other uses of their household resources.
  • • Parents make specific tradeoffs between the number of children they have and their desire to spend more on each child.The result is that higher-income families tend to have fewer children.
  • • In a Malthusian economy, both birth rates and death rates are high, and income levels are kept low.
  • • In the course of economic development, countries generally undergo a characteristic pattern of decline in birth rates and death rates, with declines in birth rates lagging declines in death rates.
  • • Death rates have fallen as crop yields have increased due to technological advance, and with advances in public health services and practices.
  • • Birth rates have fallen as economies transitioned from being heavily agricultural, with the development of contraceptive methods and family planning services, and with the wider adoption of various social programs such as retirement security and compulsory education.
  • • Population growth may itself serve as a catalyst for technological advance that increases food production (Boserup effect).
  • • Good institutions, including secure private property rights and stable governments, encourage agricultural production.
  • • There are a variety of population policies, which can be divided up into antinatalist and pronatalist policies.

Key concepts

  • • Becker model of fertility
  • • Demographic transition model
  • • Malthusian economy
  • • Malthusian trap
  • • Boserup effect
  • • Antinatalist vs. pronatalist policies Exercises/discussion questions
  • 7.1. Consider the Becker model of fertility. What would be the predicted effect, if any, of each of the following events on (a) family size and (b) expenditures per child?
  • • One of the spouses in a two-breadwinner family receives an unexpected promotion and a large raise.
  • • The non-working spouse in a two-breadwinner family receives a large unexpected inheritance.
  • • The government provides contraception and family planning services.
  • • The government enacts tuition-free public education.
  • 7.2. Can you see any ways that escaping from the Malthusian trap may have elements of path dependence?
  • 7.3. Discuss ways in which educational subsidies and public health policies could be used to enhance the Boserup effect.
  • 7.4. Can you see ways that China s failure to escape from the antinatalist effects of its One Child Policy may have elements of path dependence?
  • 7.5. Other than the ones listed in the discussion, can you think of other examples of pronatalist policies? Antinatalist policies?


  • 1 National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, /e/zenkoku_e2017/pp_zenkoku2017e_gaiyou.html#e_zenkoku_II, retrieved August 2,2019.
  • 2 The simplifying assumption being made here is that pregnancy and delivery costs are a function only of the number of children, and not the quality of children. See Guinnane (2011), p. 597.
  • 3 This figure is adapted from Clark (2007), p. 22.
  • 4 See, for example, Goldman (1993) for the case of Kenya.
  • 5 The study of Prussia focused on the 19th century and thus did not investigate family planning effects.
  • 6 Positive effect of tax provisions: Whittington (1992,1993); Zhang et al. (1994). Canada payment program: Milligan (2005). Welfare payments: Hoynes (1997); Moffitt (1998).
  • 7 Blau and Robins (1989); Buttner and Lutz (1990); Winegarden and Bracy (1995); Lalive and Zweimuller (2009).
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