Children begin contributing to the family income at a young age. But even more important: Children are the equivalent of our Social Security. In the Least Industrialized Nations, the government does not provide social security or medical and unemployment insurance. This motivates people to bear more children, for when parents become too old to work, or when no work is to be found, their children take care of them. The more children they have, the 2
broader their base of support. To those of us who live in the Most Industrialized Nations, it seems irrational to have many children. And for us it would be. Conflict theorists offer a different view of why women in the Least Industrialized Nations bear so many children. Feminists argue that women like Celia have internalized values that support male dominance. In Latin America, machismo — an emphasis on male virility and dominance—is common. To father many children, especially sons, shows that a man is sexually potent, giving him higher status in the community. From a conflict perspective, then, the reason poor people have so many children is that men control women’s reproductive choices. Implications of Different Rates of Growth: In contrast, women in the United States are having so few children that if it weren’t for immigration, the U.S. population would begin to shrink. To illustrate population dynamics, demographers use population pyramids. As demographers like to phrase this, Mexico’s age structure gives it greater population momentum . With its population momentum and higher birth rate, Mexico’s population will double in forty years. The implications of a doubling population are mind-boggling. Conflict theorists point out that a declining standard of living poses the threat of political instability—protests, riots, even revolution—and, in response, repression by the government. Political instability in one country can spill into others, threatening an entire region’s balance of power. Fearing such disruptions, leaders of the Most Industrialized Nations are using the United Nations to direct a campaign of worldwide birth control. The Three Demographic Variables: Educators want to know how many schools to build. Manufacturers want to anticipate changes in the market for their products. The government needs to know how many doctors, engineers, and executives to train. Politicians want to know how many people will be paying taxes—and how many young people will be available to fight a war. To project the future of populations, demographers use three demographic variables: fertility, mortality, and migration. Let’s look at each. o Fertility The number of children that the average woman bears is called the fertility rate. The world’s overall fertility rate is 2.6, which means that during her lifetime the average woman in the world bears 2.6 children. At 2.1, the fertility rate of U.S. women is considerably less (Haub and Kent 2008). A term that is sometimes confused with fertility is fecundity, the number of children that women are
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