The Fertility Transition in Latin America

By José Miguel Guzmán; Susheela Singh et al. | Go to book overview

15 The Social Consequences of Rapid Fertility Decline during a Period of Economic Crisis

JOSEPH E. POTTER


Introduction

It is difficult, if not impossible, to consider the consequences of demographic change in isolation from the impact of other changes that are taking place in a society. That is particularly true in the face of the drastic deterioration of living standards that has taken place in Latin America since 1980, and what seem to be radical attempts by governments to either restructure or replace now bankrupt 'styles of development'. There is a very real possibility that the influence of fertility decline has been swamped by the more general effects of 'the crisis', and the structural adjustment policies that have accompanied it. Moreover, in these circumstances, the pertinent question concerns whether and how falling birth rates may have moderated or accentuated the effects of the crisis, rather than any direct effect that they might have had on welfare.

In this context, as in others, an inevitably daunting aspect of the examination of the consequences of rapid fertility decline (or any other demographic change) is to choose the relevant aspects of individual or collective welfare on which to focus. The literature is, of course, a source of guidance for selecting appropriate areas of focus. Although, by some accounts, 'the subject of the consequences of population growth . . . receives much less than its due' ( McNicoll 1984), a great deal has been written on the effects of rapid population growth on economic development in poor countries, as well as on the effects of below replacement fertility in industrial societies. Yet among the various questions that have been raised in these discussions some questions seem far more pertinent than others to the contemporary situation in Latin America.

It is at this point that the crisis looms large, and directs our focus away from some topics and toward others. For example, it would seem grotesque in the present circumstances to ask what influence fertility decline had on savings and investment. Whatever the effect might have been, it would surely be imperceptible in the tidal wave of economic disarray and decapitalization that has swept over the region. Additionally, the gravity of the circumstances commands us to concentrate on the impact of rapid fertility decline in the recent past and immediate future, rather than in the more distant future. It is true that, twenty or thirty years

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