Doesn't the Population Go Down When Countries Get Wealthier?

Princess Bolkiah, the fifth child of the Sultan of Brunei,
one of the world's wealthiest men, on her wedding day.
Some people have asserted that as countries or individuals become wealthier, they naturally and inevitably will have fewer children. But this is not true. Many oil-rich countries have some of the highest birthrates in the world, and in those societies women have few rights. Even if a man is very wealthy in a woman-oppressing country, his wife will have little or no choice over her own reproduction.

Nafis Sadik, the woman who ran the U.N.'s Population Fund for many years, said when she was first starting out in Pakistan as a medical doctor, many of her patients were women who were having a child every year, and often starting young. As a concerned doctor, Sadik counseled these women to slow down, to space out their births, to give her body a chance to recuperate. Having babies too close together drains a mother's body of nutrients and can cause debilitating anemia and other problems.

Dr. Sadik was shocked to hear the common response: "That's not my decision to make." In other words, she didn't have the power to decide whether to get pregnant or not. That was her husband's decision; not hers.

The population will not necessarily drop just because a country or a family becomes wealthier.

No, the key to slowing or reversing population growth is rights for women — the right to choose who she marries, when she marries, and how many children she wants to have. And the right to an education so she has economic choices and enough knowledge to use contraception. Population growth is consistently higher wherever women lack these basic human rights.

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