In a recent editorial entitled, “Two-pronged war against poverty,” Sun Star Cebu, a daily newspaper, claimed that the Philippines’ rising population is “one of the basic causes of pervasive poverty and which has become central to the reproductive health controversy.”
This is false and obsolete thinking.
Numerous economic studies have shown that there is no causal link or correlation between poverty and population growth. In the paper “A Primer on the proposed Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood, and Population Development Consolidated Bill,” Dr. Roberto de Vera cites Nobel Prize winner Simon Kuznets’ 1966 book, Modern Economic Growth: Rate, Structure and Spread, which concluded: “no clear association appears to exist in the present sample of countries, or is likely to exist in other developed countries, between rates of growth of population and of product per capita.”
More recent studies have supported Kuznets’ original conclusion and applied it to all nations in general. De Vera cites five more:
“(1) the 1992 Ross Levine and David Renelt study of the relationship between growth and its determinants found no significant effect of population growth on economic growth;
(2) the 1994 Jeff King and Lant Pritchett study arrived at a similar finding where they allowed the effect of population on economic growth to vary according to the level of development and resource scarcity;
(3) in a 1996 review of the population-growth-poverty relationship, Dennis Ahlburg points out that studies have shown population growth has little or no effect on poverty;
(4) in a 2004 study examining the determinants of long-term growth, Gernot Dopelhoffer, Ronald Miller, and Xavier Sala-I-Martin, found that average annual population growth from 1960-1990 was not robustly correlated with economic growth;
(5) the 2007 Eric Hanushek and Ludger Wommann study found that total fertility rates, which can be seen as an alternative measure of population growth, did not have a statistically significant association with population growth.”
Dr. De Vera goes on to say:
Similar conclusions have been arrived at by the US National Research Council in 1986 and in the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Consultative Meeting of Economists in 1992.
Moreover, these studies support Kuznets’s explanation of why no direct relationship could be expected between population growth and economic growth. Population growth and economic growth are linked through a “common set of political and social institutions.” Thus, any “direct causal relation” between them “may be quite limited.” Moreover, any relationship that is measured cannot be used as a basis for managing population to affect economic growth.
It is important to note that even if there are recent econometric studies that show that population growth is negatively correlated with per capita income growth in the Philippine case (i.e. an increase in the population growth rate leads to decrease in the per capita income growth rate), these studies cannot conclude that higher population growth rates causes lower per capita income growth rates. It is more probable that there are intervening factors such as those mentioned by Kuznets that may cause economic growth. This these studies cannot serve as bases for a policy that aims to reduce population growth to raise per capita income growth.
For the Sun Star to say that population growth causes poverty is unscientific. Overpopulation is clearly a myth.
The real causes of poverty in the Philippines are massive corruption, bad governance, economic mismanagement, indiscriminate debt servicing, greed, and war (in Mindanao). The so-called “reproductive health” bill and its population control measures will not address these issues; but the Church’s social teaching — if put into practice — certainly will.
(NOTE: This post also appeared in my blog at http://mamador.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/obsolete-thinking-again/)