Andrew Stuttaford cites Lant Pritchett to support the contention that contraception for birth spacing is a good thing for women’s health. This certainly is the common wisdom, but even that may be changing. Yesterday, John Cleland, professor of Medical Demography at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told a Lancet-sponsored side event at the Gates Family Planning Summit that it is not entirely clear that birth spacing is needed for women’s health.
Andrew skips over the bulk of Pritchett’s important paper, where he refutes certain notions used then and now by population-control and family-planning advocates that there is a great “unmet need” for modern means of contraception and that family size is largely determined by the presence of aggressive U.N.-style family-planning programs. These are the arguments now being used by Melinda Gates, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the U.N. Population Fund, and others at the London Summit.
Pritchett shows that, as long ago as 1994, these notions were exaggerated and even false. Take France, for instance. The French entered into what is called the “demographic transition” to permanently lower fertility in the 19th century, long before modern means of contraception, long before U.N.-style family planning programs, and certainly among a largely uneducated population.
Nicholas Eberstadt shows in his work that this holds true in modern times as well. Poor, uneducated countries with a lower prevalence of contraceptive use can and do have fertility rates similar to highly educated, wealthy countries drenched in contraceptives. It is primarily the woman who decides the number of her children. Not Melinda Gates or the U.N. Prichett agrees. In fact, he broke the ground on this.