Re-Forming Population Paradigms for Science and Action

  • Amy Ong Tsui
Part of the The Springer Series on Demographic Methods and Population Analysis book series (PSDE)


This commentary begins with the book’s last chapter under the questioning title, “New Directions for the Population Movement?” After more than three decades of concerted effort, there is some irony in the noted query about the population field’s future directions. On the one hand, the “loss of sense of direction and malaise” that the chapter suggests has become a widely shared view. McNicholl, in 1989, has written, “A common sentiment among demographers today is that their field is tired... the excitement demography once possessed has been lost” (p. 423). The Population Explosion, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich (1990), appearing almost 25 years after the inciteful The Population Bomb (Ehrlich, 1978), opens with a chapter titled “Why Isn’t Everyone as Scared as We Are?” Paul Demeny (1994) in a distinguished lecture on population and development, sponsored by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, observes: “With their original rationale weakened, population programs... are increasingly invoking alternative justifications for maintaining and expanding their activities. One of these is protection of the environment” (p. 20). Moreover, he notes, the tendency now is to “justify family planning programs as serving exclusively the private needs of their clients” under the rubric of reproductive services. Indeed the above and other similar evidence points to a global movement no longer galvanized by the energy of a common crisis but one tranquilized by its own maturity wherein both the wisdom and myopia of perfect hindsight have set in.


Reproductive Health Population Movement Family Planning Program Official Development Assistance Population Program 
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  1. 1.
    Other important factors include stability and expansion of international and national funding for population and the vigor and commitment of new leadership assuming the charter of its predecessors. These require more in-depth discussion than is possible here.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Tempering predictions, at the time of this writing, are the unknown consequences from a dramatic political transition in the United States, brought about by a Republican victory in fall 1994 congressional elections. Past (Democratic) legislative support to earmark federal funding in foreign aid for population may disappear and with it U.S. leadership in global population affairs. In this eventuality, the reproductive health agenda, prominently displayed in Cairo, may be a short-lived issue for U.S. population assistance given that its liberal ideology is seen as threatening traditional family values.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Some of the material in this section is drawn from a paper prepared with Barry Popkin for the Carolina Population Center’s 25th Anniversary Symposium in 1991 entitled “Population: Growing as a Field.”.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The sample survey, important as it is, should not become the sole population measurement tradition, especially for fertility policy matters. Evaluation of fertility control measures began with classic experiments carried out in the field, borrowing heavily from agricultural innovations research. As Harkavy notes, knowledge, attitude, and practice (KAP) surveys were then introduced to measure public support for potential government support of birth control services. The KAP survey has since been transformed into the cross-national demographic survey under programs like the Demographic and Health Survey. There is still, however, considerable room for the reintroduction of classic experiments to evaluate interventions derived of major policy decisions, particularly reproductive health.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    With increasing frequency this research-evaluation design is being adopted for evaluating other health behavior interventions, subsidized housing schemes, and income transfer programs.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Others (e.g., Sinding, personal communication) have referred to this vulnerability as the “soft underbelly of the Cairo agenda.”.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    A quick examination of 25 countries, considered developing in 1970, which around 1994 ranked among the highest in per capita GNP or the lowest in infant mortality, shows only five enjoying both: Hong Kong, Singapore, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. In addition to four of these five being islands, the combined total population in these countries is 16.6 million, a negligible percentage of the developing world’s population. Demographically significant countries, such as China, India, Indonesia, or Pakistan, rank poorly by these terms, suggesting that a full court press begun in the 1970s on global policy initiatives, such as the New International Economic Order or Child Survival, might have fallen short of any intended demographic impact. On the other hand, among the 15 countries with the lowest fertility rates in 1995, several populous countries appear: China, Thailand, Republic of Korea, and Brazil, implying demographic accomplishments by the family planning movement.Google Scholar


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy Ong Tsui
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, and Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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