Traditionally, high birth rates were high. But as they were balanced by high death rates, population growth rates were usually very low. Prof David Coleman looks at family planning in the developing world.
Rapid decline in death rates in the non-European world began after the 1940s. As birth rates generally remained high, that provoked an increase in population unprecedented in history - with a billion people being added to world population every 13 years by the 1970s. Some defended the benefit of high fertility and the advantages of population growth -as in Mao's China of the 1950s, and Mussaveni's Uganda to this day. But most believed that poverty and progress depend on fertility and growth rates being moderated. Family planning programmes were developed, starting with India in 1954. By the 1990s the majority of the developing world's governments promoted family planning- the most notable converts being China and Iran. Not all these programmes have been successful, although birth rates are falling almost everywhere, in some cases to very low levels. The population dimension has been eclipsed in the last decade, mostly for ideological reasons - hardly featuring in important discussions such as the Kyoto treaty, the Millennium Development Goals and so on. But a more balanced appreciation is now emerging.