When I carefully consider, The curious habits of dogs
I am compelled to conclude, That man is the superior animal
When I consider, The curious habits of man
I confess, my friend, I am puzzled . . .
(Personae, Ezra Pound)
Fertility decline in developing countries is a social change of essential importance, encompassing human relations and conditions at almost any level of society. The divergence of mortality and fertility levels in recent decades has given rise to a rapid growth in the world population. The alleged 'population problem' associated with this increase has figured prominently in international debates. It is perceived as a central issue in a range of global problems including economic development, global resource distribution, environmental degradation, and national and international political stability. At the same time this problem has puzzled generations of researchers: alarmist perspectives, pessimism, optimism and revisionism have characterized the tides of the population debate since the 1950s.
These diverging assessments are in part due to the fact that considerable controversy exists among demographers, economists and sociologists over the causes of fertility decline. New data and empirical analyses of both historical and contemporary fertility declines have weakened the standard theory of demographic transition. The vast body of empirical evidence on the origins, speed, and correlates of fertility declines in different historical and geographical settings has proven challenging to any theoretical explanation of fertility behavior and demographic change. Despite a plethora of new theories of fertility change, none has emerged as hegemonic or as an alternative guide to empirical research or population policy. This disagreement about the causes of past fertility declines in industrialized countries is mirrored in diverging predictions about the future paths of 'new' fertility transitions in the developing world. Not surprisingly, the opinions about the long-term implications of