Sunday, May 02, 2010

the fertility-opportunity hypothesis

Wikipedia | Abernethy's research has focused on the issues of population and culture. Her most famous work discounts the demographic transition theory, which holds that fertility drops as women become more educated and contraceptives become more available. In its place she has developed a fertility-opportunity hypothesis which states that fertility follows perceived economic opportunity. A corollary to this hypothesis is that food aid to developing nations will only exacerbate overpopulation. She has advocated in favor of microloans to women in the place of international aid, because she believes microloans allow improvement in the lives of families without leading to higher fertility.

She has opposed programs that would spur economic development in less developed countries on the grounds that they are self-defeating. In the December 1994 issue of The Atlantic Monthly she authored an article entitled "Optimism and Overpopulation" in which she argued that "efforts to alleviate poverty often spur population growth, as does leaving open the door to immigration. Subsidies, windfalls, and the prospect of economic opportunity remove the immediacy of needing to conserve. The mantras of democracy, redistribution, and economic development raise expectations and fertility rates, fostering population growth and thereby steepening a downward environmental and economic spiral."

Vanderbilt | As world reserves of oil and natural gas dwindle over the coming decades a prospect predicted by many energy experts the rate at which the people in most societies around the world have babies is likely to drop precipitously as well.

That is the prediction of anthropologist Virginia Abernethy, professor emerita of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University , speaking on Feb. 13 in the symposium From the Ground Up: The Importance of Soil in Sustaining Civilization at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Seattle.

The availability of energy has been a major factor in population growth, says Abernethy. In the modern context, energy use per capita affects economic activity. So a prolonged decline in energy use per capita will tend to depress the economy which, in turn, will cause a decline in the fertility rate.

Abernethy's argument has two parts: the link between the availability of petroleum and the economy, and the link between changes in economic conditions and fertility rates.

Regarding the first link, she points out that oil and gas are unparalleled sources of energy. Not only does petroleum provide the fuel that powers modern vehicles and the natural gas that people use for home heating and cooking, but petroleum products are the source for hundreds of industrial and agricultural products, including fertilizer, pesticides and plastics. This means that petroleum cannot be easily replaced by other fuels and feed stocks.

Despite the fact that continuing low prices are encouraging Americans and the inhabitants of other industrialized countries to consume oil and gas at profligate rates, numerous geologists, physicists and computer scientists have calculated that petroleum and liquid natural gas production will begin to plateau and then decline within five to 10 years, she says.