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Women's Rights and Economic Development

If women in developing countries are given control over their resources and given credit for the work they do, they will not need the security that having so many children brings. Instead they will have a credible social status and control over their education, employment, and family size.

When women have an equal share in earnings, independence, and freedom, they can live peacefully with men and will have fewer children by choice without being limited directly in their reproduction rates. Finally, the children they do have will hopefully be formally educated so that they too will have choices in their life and will not be restricted by their social status.

This type of change will not only require a change in the status of women, but also in the economic development of these countries. If the economy is given the opportunity to develop, couples will earn money and be able to bring their families out of poverty. This will then give them the ability to develop social status through the goods they possess rather than the number of children they have. This is what Mary Douglas refers to as "oysters and champagne."

Acquiring status is a major goal of all humans as seen in all social mammals. Whether this status is gained by having a BMW or by having six or seven children depends on the type of society one lives in and the resources that are available. By giving developing countries the opportunity to industrialize and improve their economies, we are not only increasing jobs and decreasing poverty, but also decreasing the fertility rate.

People will have a choice in using some of their resources to acquire goods, leaving a smaller amount for the raising of children. In this way, people may "willingly give up having some babies so that they can afford washing machines and motor cars".


A major way that economic development can begin is in the formal education of both men and women in impoverished nations. Education in schools will give way to knowledge that can help people improve their cities and villages economically which will lead to a life where children are not needed for status and financial support.

In addition, the education of girls about what large families are doing to the world population and how it can be controlled with contraception will decrease the fertility rate. When women are educated, there is an additional benefit in that they too will want to hold jobs.

When women have jobs, this also leads to less children. In countries where no women are enrolled in secondary education, the average woman has seven children, but where 40 per cent of all women have had a secondary education the average drops to three children. Once again, status can be gained through a means other than the number of children one has, this time by holding a job.

Birth Control

When couples are given the opportunity to see how their large families are affecting resources and the environment around the world, we can begin to solve our problem by increasing the availability of birth control. This is a much more immediate solution, however it will only work if the couples want to use it.

This means that the motivation for having large families must be diminished. If methods of contraception as well as education in terms of family planning are given to men and women in impoverished countries, then the number of children in each family should decrease.

In addition, both education about the population problem and an increase in women in the work force will cause women to wait longer to have children. This can also be helpful because "like smaller families, such delays in first births exert a powerful brake on population momentum by lengthening the time span between generations"

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Women's History Magazine


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