"Why don't people in poor countries quit having so many children? The only solution to the hunger problem is birth control!" writes a mother from the Bronx to Bread for the World, a Christian citizens' movement.
Her letter echoes the thoughts of many. It sounds persuasive. But the argument contains one fatal flaw: It ignores the crucial role that hunger plays in spurring population growth. No country, including our own, has ever restrained a population boom without progress in freeing people from the grip of hunger and poverty. Unless that happens, family planning programs make little impact.
In most poor countries surviving sons take care of their parents in old age. Faced with a high death rate, and starvation never far away, parents know that many children, especially sons, mean security later on. According to India's former Minister of State for Family Planning, hunger induces women in his country to produce from eight to ten children on the assumption that only three will live to become breadwinners. So the vicious cycle of hunger = more people = more hunger continues to worsen.
The idea that the circle can be broken with family planning measures is a fantasy of the rich world. Paul Ehrlich, whose book, The Population Bomb, did much to nourish that fantasy, has since ridiculed it as a '"condoms from helicopters delusion -- a psychological condition that is rampant among well-meaning upper-middle and upper class Americans."1 He now maintains that as long as poor couples need sons for future security, family planners' propaganda to "stop at two" makes no sense to them.