The Fertility Transition in Latin America

By JosÉ Miguel GuzmÁn; Susheela Singh et al. | Go to book overview

10
The Role of Family Planning Programmes in the Fertility Transition of Latin America

AXEL I. MUNDIGO


Onset of the Fertility Transition

In the twenty-year period following the end of the Second World War, Latin America experienced slow but important improvements in mortality due to the expansion of public-sector health programmes and services whose objective was to eradicate endemic diseases. During this period fertility remained high or even increased in some countries as a result of improved health conditions. By the 1960s Latin American demographers began producing estimates and charting trends for the future population growth. Regional and national research centres began to study the influences of demographic factors on development. In the United States, Coale and Hoover ( 1958) published a study showing the negative results of high fertility for economic development in developing countries arguing that investments made to sustain rapidly expanding populations impeded needed investment in vital sectors of the economy. Their conclusions, based on data for India and Mexico, and the debate that followed were important in creating a climate favourable to international assistance for population programmes, and influenced the policies of the United States government. As reliable new information became available documenting the magnitude of population growth, the effects of rapidly doubling populations, and the implications of younger age structures, more vocal arguments for controlling demographic growth emerged and by the end of the 1960s population had become a 'crisis' of global dimensions.

In Latin America, during the 1950s and 1960s, governments for the most part believed that 'to govern is to populate' (gobernar es poblar) and initially expanding populations were seen as a resource for the future growth of the national economies. The main ideological position among government leaders was pronatalist. Population growth was considered the essential ingredient to accelerate production, generate demand, and increase the labour pool necessary for industrial development. In some cases a larger population was viewed as essential for national security. Few public leaders were concerned about the fact that productivity has more to do with the capacity and training of the workers than with their absolute numbers. For others, as long as the rate of population growth remained below that of the GNP, there was no reason to be concerned.

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