The Two-Child Family: The Egyptian Model of Family Planning

By Wisensale, Steven K.; Khodair, Amany A. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

The Two-Child Family: The Egyptian Model of Family Planning


Wisensale, Steven K., Khodair, Amany A., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


The concern over population growth is not new, nor have the parameters of the debate about its potential consequences changed very much during the last 200 years (Moffet, 1994, Sen, 1994, Wangh, 1995, U.S. News, 1994, Wattenberg, 1987). In his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, British economist Thomas Malthus concluded that social and economic progress, particularly food production, would be outdistanced by uncontrollable population growth (Malthus, 1798). This, he argued, would in turn produce devastating famines, economic instability, and ongoing political turmoil.

The outcomes predicted by Malthus could only be avoided through strict rules, inflexible regulations, and coercive actions by government, not through the voluntary behavior of individuals. For example, Malthus' opposition to England's poor laws was rooted in his belief that any efforts to raise the income of the poor would make matters worse because higher income would only prompt the poor to have more children. This particular recommendation, that the government influence the birth rate through overt policy initiatives, would eventually come to be known as the "override model" of family planning.

Countering the pessimism of Malthus, was French mathematician and social scientist Marquis de Condorcet who, in 1795, published Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind (Condorcet, 1795). Arguing forcefully that new technologies and agricultural advances would increase food productivity, and that educational reform would produce reasoned human action and, Condorcet convinced many of his contemporaries that the birthrate would be reduced and the problem of overpopulation could be solved by the voluntary actions of individuals, not by government mandates. This approach would ultimately be referred to as the "collaborative model" of family planning.

In many respects the echoes of Malthus' pessimism and Condorcet's optimism are heard clearly today as the great demographic debate of the 20th century moves into the 21st. Assuming a pessimistic position are ecologist Paul Ehrlich (1968, 1990) and Garrett Hardin (1993). Ehrlich, for example, in both The Population Bomb (1968) and The Population Explosion (1990) concludes that overpopulation will produce mass starvation and ecological overload. If the birthrate is not brought into balance with the deathrate, Ehrlich warns that mankind will breed itself into oblivion. We can no longer afford merely to treat the symptoms of the cancer of population growth, argues Ehrlich. The cancer itself must be cut out. Therefore, population control is the only answer.

On the other hand, optimists, such as economist Julian Simon (1980) and political scientist David Osterfeld (1992) have reached much different conclusions. Osterfeld, in particular, is extremely critical of neo-Malthusians such as Ehrlich and Hardin. According to Osterfeld, today's data show that Malthus had it backwards. The population explosion didn't limit production; it was made possible by the explosion of production, of resources, food, scientific information, and medical advances. Thus, if anything, the limits to growth are receding rather than growing nearer and the world is therefore growing relatively less populated.

But the 20th century debate over population control has not been confined to ecologists, economists, and political scientists. Many of the questions raised and strategies suggested by Malthus and Condorcet 200 years ago have since been revisited by key policy makers within individual countries. For example, when Sweden was confronted with a low fertility rate in the 1940s the government set in motion a series of pro-natalist policies that included increased funding for the development of fertility drugs and the adoption of broad-based family policies such as child care and parental leave (Myrdal, 1941). China, on the other hand, addressed the opposite problem of overpopulation in the 1970s by applying its "One-child policy" to each married couple (Croll, 1985, Davin 1985). …

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