Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In Africa, men want more children than women do?

In the discussion thread of a recent Parapundit post, commenter Dragon Horse argues high sub-Sahara African fertility is the result of men wanting large broods:
The main problem, as outlined by in Potts and Hayden (2009) "Sex and War" is access to affordable birth control. Most African women express a desire to control family size, it is the men who do not.

Potts and Hayden's argument is also "Freedom" but not the libertarian kind. Pretty much, they found that the less free a woman is in society, the more a male controlled societal (or religious) structure control their fertility the higher the birth rate tends to be. In societies where women have a higher education level, more legal rights, more say inside their marriage, etc, they have less children.
Having not read the book, I cannot respond to what the authors write. It is not clear that the second sentence excerpted above is asserted by the authors or if Dragon Horse is pulling it from somewhere else.

I am able to see whether or not the World Values Survey lends credence to the claim that African men want more children than African women do, however. A question probing for participants' ideal number of children was not asked in the most recent "fifth wave" survey, so responses are from the fourth wave, spanning 1999-2002. The following table shows the average number of children desired, by gender, for sub-Sahara African countries surveyed by the WVS:

Ideal childrenMenWomen
by countryMeanMedianMeanMedian
Nigeria4.544.6 4
South Africa2.922.82

Not much in the way of support for the claim. Differences in the perceived ideal rate of children exist between countries, and, at least in the US, by educational attainment among residents of that country. Gender does not predict fertility in sub-Sahara Africa (or anywhere else to any significant degree, for that matter).

The second point Dragon Horse makes is valid. Specifically, the gender gap in education is a strong predictor of national fertility rates. As measured by the World Economic Forum's 2007 report entitled "The Global Gender Gap", the correlation between fertility and educational parity is an inverse .75 (p=0), far stronger than it is among the other measures of gender equality, including economic participation and opportunity (.22), political empowerment (.22), and health and survival (.01).


agnostic said...

That book is stupid. First, women run the fucking show in Africa, at least as far as reproduction goes. Same among Af-Ams. The men are basically parasites who rely on women doing all the hard work -- the opposite of the hard-working patriarch who insists his wife stay at home and not work. It's one of the few climates that is favorable enough for women to farm.

Second, there is an almost perfect correlation between the actual fertility of a country and its "desired fertility" (google that phrase and Pritchett to find a good review article).

So, between-country differences in actual fertility are accounted for by differences in the number of kids that the women in each country *desire*. You can measure this several ways (e.g., ask them how many they'd like in all, ask mothers with X children if they'd like another, for all X, or ask if they wish they'd had fewer, etc.), and the results come out the same.

And again, the idea that female empowerment or education (as a route to empowerment) is driving -- rather than merely associated with -- the demographic transition ignores history. It started at least in the 1700s among the French. Continued through feminists would call the oppressive Victorian era, etc.

Is it so hard to believe that empowered women would desire large families? In Africa, they still exist.

bgc said...

The key point is that in Africa (and everywhere else) mortality rates declined earlier and faster than fertility rates - and that is the main cause of population growth.

In Farewell to Alms Gregory Clark describes how the population in sub-Sharan Africa is growing fast despite the lowest standard of living ever on this planet. That could not happen in the past - modern Western medicine is what makes the difference.

In Australia, the Aboriginal population is growing fast despite massively worse health, incredible rates of accidents and violence, and much shorter life expectancy than the European population - presumably for the same basic reason.

In Western Europe, US, E Asia; the decline in mortality rates was followed by a decline in fertility which was enabled by the invention of contraception and abortion; and the intelligence and conscientiousness necessary to use these technologies.

Without these fertility-controlling technologies, the only way to reduce fertility to replacement or below is for most women to abstain from sex for most of their lives.

That hasn't happened anywhere yet.

Audacious Epigone said...

Here is the paper Agnostic alludes to.

Re: the demographic transition, it did start centuries before the modern educational system, but the association is strong and it seems plausible to me that lengthening educational tracks are accentuating the trends of reduced and delayed fertility.


So in the modern world, dysgenic birthing trends increase fertility? If that is a truism, then I guess I shouldn't describe it as dysgenic in a Darwinian sense.

The population in sub-Sharan Africa is growing fast despite the lowest standard of living ever on this planet. That could not happen in the past - modern Western medicine is what makes the difference.

What is your answer to the morally difficult question that raises?

agnostic said...

a decline in fertility which was enabled by the invention of contraception and abortion; and the intelligence and conscientiousness necessary to use these technologies.

Actually, in that Pritchett article, he reviews the evidence showing that availability of contraception doesn't predict realized fertility. If a woman doesn't want kids, and has access to contraception, then she'll use it. But if she wants kids, she won't use it. It all gets back to women's underlying preferences.

Strangely, there's actually experimental evidence on this topic (for once in public policy). They matched two communities in Bangladesh for relevant demographic variables. So, this is an area where population control people are sure that if only they could get and use contraception better, they'd decrease their fertility.

One they left alone as a control, and the other they saturated with contraception, outreach programs, education, etc. Completely saturated it.

In the treatment group, fertility indeed declined -- but by the same amount that it declined in the control group! Access to, education about, raising awareness of contraception had no effect on fertility.

Whatever was driving the changing preferences of women in both groups was not affected by contraception.

bgc said...

For an alternative view to Pritchard see Malcolm Potts. Population and Development Review. Sex and the Birth Rate: Human Biology, Demographic Change, and Access to Fertility-Regulation Methods. 1997; 23: 1-39.


Success, in evolutionary terms, means contributing more surviving offspring to the next generation than competing individuals of the same species in the same population. Human conception is a probabilistic event occurring against a background of frequent, usually infertile sex, which helps bond parents together. Humans have an innate drive for sex and for nurturing their children as they arrive, but they have no biological predisposition for a specific number of children. In preliterate societies, in the absence of artificial means of fertility regulation, pregnancies are spaced several years apart by unconscious physiological mechanisms based on breast-feeding. In preliterate and in preindustrial urban societies, socially successful individuals commonly had larger than average families. Once people have unconstrained access to a range of fertility-regulation options (including safe abortion), family size falls in all groups and in all societies. In such a context, social success tends to be associated with the accumulation of material wealth, rather than with having more children. The argument that development causes fertility decline is flawed because people cannot make choices about family size without realistic access to fertility-regulation technologies, and such access is historically recent and remains geographically limited. Where access to fertility regulation is constrained, the richer and more educated are usually better able than the less privileged to surmount the barriers between them and the needed technologies, hence the common inverse relationship between income and family size. Policies derived from this perspective are discussed.


AE asks about morally difficult questions. Until Western elites themselves take the real world seriously enough to reproduce at above replacement fertility rates, they will not be serious enough to discuss third world fertility or to do anything about it or about its vast implications. I am not optimistic.

silly girl said...

About 20 years ago a friend of mine wrote her dissertation on teen pregnancy. Her basic point was that these girls didn't feel successful in school and getting pregnant was a way to get out and into something at which they thought they could be more successful. Basically they wanted the kid/marriage/family not education. They were in the wrong society at the wrong time. The point is that they wanted the kid. Contraception, abstinence, education, whatever only works when the woman doesn't want the kid.

Soul Searcher said...

One African saying I know:

Olomo lo ni aye
"People who have children own the world."

Audacious Epigone said...


Still, it's clear that desirability is at least crucial on the abundance end, even if it that is not the case when it comes to limiting the number of offspring.

Anonymous said...

I think the solution is sterilization, specifically vasectomy, though in Africa, you may to rely on tubectomies.

Sterilization is "easy to use." Once it's done, you don't have to think about it.

Launch intense propoganda campaigns: after having your family, sterilize yourself, etc.


I'm from Southern India, and it's been very effective in a certain state.

Anonymous said...

IUDs would work as well.