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Family planning, defined as public programs designed to help parents plan and regulate their family size, includes practices of planning the timing of child birth, using of birth controls, and other techniques such as sexuality education and STI prevention. Internationally, family planning programs are linked with population issues and poverty in developing countries and are majorly carried out under the regulation of UNFPA—the United Nations Population Fund. Although family planning programs are generally successful, due to its potential link with abortion and other consideration of human rights, currently, there is an ongoing debate in cutting United States’, the single largest donator, funding for international family planning and UNFPA. However, even minor cut in family planning will lead to serious health impacts. Estimated by Guttmacher, each decrease of $10 million in U.S. international family planning and reproductive health assistance would result in 520,000 fewer women and couples would receive contraceptive services and supplies; 150,000 more unintended pregnancies, including 70,000 more unplanned births, would occur; 70,000 more abortions would take place (of which 50,000 would be unsafe); 400 more maternal deaths would occur; 50,000 more DALYs would be lost; and 2,000 more children would lose their mothers.

Clearly, family planning programs are necessary in terms of making our mothers around the world healthier. However, another impact of family planning is often forgot by policy makers—it’s economical impacts on poverty.

To consider the economical impacts of family planning on developing countries, we need to establish the relationship between population and poverty. Using the World Bank’s data, we can somewhat get a feel about this linkage. According to the World Bank, the top ten countries with the largest population are China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, and Japan in year 2011. And among them, while China, India, and Indonesia are considered as lower-middle-income countries, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Bangladesh are considered as low-income countries. And stated by UNFPA, the countries in which poverty levels are the highest are generally those that have the most rapid increases in population and the highest fertility levels. According to a 2001 study of 45 countries, for example, found that if they had reduced fertility by five births per 1,000 people in the 1980s, the average national incidence of poverty of 18.9 per cent in the mid-1980s would have been reduced to 12.6 per cent between 1990 and 1995.

So what is the rationality for this relationship between population growth and poverty? Two economical models can be applied here. On the one hand, the classical Malthusian population trap indicates the threshold population level at which population increase was bound to stop because life-sustaining resources, which increases at an arithmetic rate, would be insufficient to support human population, which increases at a geometric rate. On the other hand, the population-poverty cycle explains how poverty and high population growth become reinforcing by an equation y-l=a(k-l)+t, so that too much population always lowers households’ ability to develop.

And for those who are not fans of economical models, the rationality can be understood from the three dimensions of poverty: health, education, and living standards. In terms of health, nutrition will improve if there are less people in a family since in a setting of food scarcity, the smaller the family, the more food each family member can have. Also, child mortality will decrease since spaced birth and fewer pregnancies improve child survival. In terms of education, less population not only means less education expenditure per household, it also means more opportunities. According to UNFPA, just to maintain existing conditions, countries with rapidly growing populations must double the number of teachers, equipment and classrooms every 20 to 25 years. A good case to illustrate the scarcity of education is in China, due to the large population, in order to enter high quality universities, students have to compete really hard for limited spots. Last but not least, in terms of living standard, similarly, less people means higher living standard. So, clearly we can agree that if there are less people on the planet, especially in developing countries, the poverty could potentially be improved.

However, still there are people who do not think the population as a problem and even argue that population growth is desirable. They also argue that family planning is against human rights and is a tool that developed countries use to control developing countries and lots of disagreements are argued on the previous economical models. A problem here is for all these unbelievers of family planning there are two missing important pieces of their rationality.

First of all, not all population increase in developing countries is wanted so that people do trap in poverty by increased population due to unintended birth. Early marriages and the social discriminations towards women lead to a significant share of birth is unintended birth. According to WHO, about 16 million adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years of age give birth each year. Babies born to adolescent mothers account for roughly 11% of all births worldwide, with 95% occurring in developing countries. For some of these young women, pregnancy and childbirth are planned and wanted, but for many others they are not. So even if population growth can be desirable, unwanted pregnancies, which comes without any health and finance preparation, can lead to young mothers drop out of school, high mortality, heavy financial burden, and poverty. As a result, family planning is essential in developing countries to stop such poverty related to unintended pregnancies.

Secondly, family planning also has a strong link with reducing HIV/AIDS and other STIs which are killing large numbers of people in their most productive years, increasing the ratio of dependents to the working-age population. Preventing AIDS-related disabilities and premature deaths translates into a healthier, more productive labor force that can improve a countries economic prospects many developing countries have large youth populations.

So, to sum up, although population growth does not cause poverty, it does intensify the problem. And the best way to help people break the cycle of poverty is to provide them with accessible family planning.


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