Fertility Policies & Their Ethical Implications

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  • 0:00 The Perfect Population
  • 1:28 Policies that Lower Fertility
  • 5:03 Policies to Increase Fertility
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Fertility rates are a major concern in many places. Explore several fertility policies and debate their ethical implications, then test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Perfect Population

This is one of my favorite fairy tales. In it, a public policy researcher by the name of Studylocks is examining national fertility policies, or policies focused on birth rates. It's a real issue. You see, over here fertility rates are too high. And over here, fertility rates are too low. But here, fertility rates are just right, and that's what most nations are shooting for.

Generally, the ideal fertility rate is considered to be at 2.1 , which means an average of 2.1 children per woman in a population. Since producing a child requires two partners, this number is just barely above the replacement level, or the fertility rate where population neither increases nor decreases. Your population maintains the exact same number of people across generations because every couple creates two children to replace them. Most nations aim for a fertility rate that's just above the replacement level so they have a very gradual and consistent level of growth without stagnating or growing too quickly. So, that's what Studylocks is aiming for, an average of 2.1 children per woman. But, how will she get there? After all, some fertility policies don't work and some are unethical, but some are just right.

Policies to Lower Fertility

One of the big problems facing many nations over the last 50 years or so is a dramatic increase in fertility. Generally, this is assumed to be the result of industrialization, since the development of industrial technology tends to bring with it changes to healthcare and food quality. The result is a very healthy population that can reproduce efficiently with a low rate of infant mortality, allowing populations to increase quickly. This can be a problem in terms of overpopulation, and many governments have created policies to decrease fertility rates. Now, off the bat, let's talk about two of these that generally are no longer accepted. Policies of forced sterilization are considered unethical and no longer used. Also, non-intervention is also falling out of practice. Many governments assumed that they could not interfere, and the problem would fix itself, but that hasn't been working, so more direct action is preferred.

Okay, so Studylocks is looking at policies that work and don't work to reduce fertility. She's going to start with direct measures, formal rules about fertility. China is, perhaps, the most famous example. Due to extremely high rates of fertility and unsustainable population growth, in 1980, China started its one-child policy, which legally mandated that families could have only one child. At first this was enforced through things like forced sterilization and other actions now considered unethical. In the late 1980s and 1990s, however, this was enforced through a mixture of fines and benefits. The one-child policy did reduce China's growth rate, but brought other issues as well. For example, many Chinese families traditionally preferred male offspring, which lead to high rates of abortions if the mother was carrying a daughter. Now, China allows for a second child if the first is female and has eased up on other restrictions as well, so that only about 1/3 of the population is still subject to the one-child policy.

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