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POPULATION, SOCIAL EQUITY AND CHANGING PRODUCTION PATTERNS 


INTRODUCTION

In accordance with the guidelines and mandates it has received from member Governments, the secretariat of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has focused in recent years on the analysis of how to approach development in the 1990s and beyond. Its core proposal has been cumulatively expressed in various documents, most recently in Social Equity and Changing Production Patterns: An Integrated Approach, which was submitted for consideration at the Commission's twenty-fourth session (April 1992).

Changing production patterns with social equity is the frame of reference and the linchpin for most of the Commission's work, as exemplified by recent contributions in the areas of external debt, the environment and education. The Commission's work on population also falls within this context. It is especially fitting, in view of the forthcoming International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, September 1994) and the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Conference on Population and Development (Mexico City, April 1993) to present the most recent results of the Commission's activity in this field.

The International Conference on Population and Development will take place in the larger context of the priority agenda of the United Nations for economic and social development, of which environmentally sustainable development, the fight against poverty and the equality of women in the development process are key components. The discussion of the population variables presented herein therefore recognizes the crucial interrelationship between these three topics and population considerations as such.

Core elements

The document is intended to contribute, first of all, to discussion and debate among member Governments on the topics of population and development, and it therefore seeks to portray the facts and trends objectively and to make further advances in interpreting them. The ultimate aim is to provide useful tools for policy-makers in the area of population, since such policies are essentially national in that they reflect each country's individual decisions. Moreover, it also seems useful to emphasize those aspects of population variables, such as problems concerning migration, which can most relevantly be addressed through regional and international cooperation.

The discussion of the topic is grounded in a solid basis of fact. This consideration is particularly important in view of the profound changes observed in Latin American and Caribbean population dynamics over the past two decades. These changes have been so far-reaching that projections of population size, growth and structure from the 1970s and 1980s have proved very wide of the mark, and have demonstrated the need for constant revision. The initial results of the census round of the 1990s only reaffirm this need. These changes in demographic behaviour have rich and varied dimensions. Life expectancy at birth –as an indicator of mortality– rose from 56 to 67 years between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, and the average number of children per woman fell from 6.0 to 3.4 over the same period. Equally significant changes have occurred in the proportion of children and elderly, in the percentage of the population residing in urban areas, in rates of female participation in the workforce and in other indicators. In a more qualitative sense, attitudes are shifting with regard to procreation; to the new models, composition and role of the family; and to changes in the social status of women. These changes comprise a highly mixed picture of population dynamics by country, so that regional averages are of little use in depicting each country's individual situation. Thus, for example, while the average growth rate was about 2% in the 1980s, values by country ranged from less than 1% in some to over 3% in others (1). Even more important is the heterogeneity within each country by social stratum, area of residence, educational level and, in many cases, ethnic group. In some countries, for example, infant mortality in segments with little education doubles and even triples the rate for those at the opposite end of the educational spectrum.

This process has been accompanied by a wide-ranging debate in the region on the relationship between demographic growth and economic growth, in an effort to identify causal relations and to draw policy conclusions from them. The debate can hardly be considered settled from the theoretical standpoint, since analysts are still finding causal relations in opposite directions and, especially, of opposite signs. Indeed, population growth has been identified by some as the main obstacle, and by others as a stimulus, to economic growth. In practice, however, it is widely agreed that policy decisions should reflect a pragmatic approach that avoids simplistic formulas of either sign. There is also broad consensus in recognizing that higher population size or growth increases pressure on the provision of basic services and the use of space and natural resources. It is also recognized that the quality of human resources, for purposes of development, is of equal or greater importance than their quantity, but that opportunities for training are reduced when the population's quantitative increase is significant.

This theoretical debate has influenced the discussion about how Governments should approach population dynamics vis-Ó-vis their economic development concerns. However, other factors are also important and should be taken into account at the governmental and, more broadly, the societal level. In United Nations forums, Governments have supported as an inalienable individual right the freedom to decide on reproductive behaviour, and have pledged to ensure its effective exercise. Surveys and other research have found that the majority of the population wishes to exercise this right, but that a large segment of this majority cannot do so, owing to a lack of information and material means. The existence of this unmet demand may constitute the most important grounds for concern and –when it is so decided– for public action through population policies. Since the aforementioned unmet demand is found mainly in poor strata, socio-economic inequity extends to what could be termed demographic inequity (2).

Governments should therefore consider, among their initiatives to help poor individuals and families to improve their situation, measures directly aimed at overcoming demographic inequity.

Furthermore, the predominance of high-fertility reproductive patterns in poor strata in itself promotes the transmission of poverty from generation to generation. In poor families with many children, including households headed by women, the attention received by each child in terms of health, nutrition and education is deficient; this puts poor children at a disadvantage for successfully integrating themselves into the labour market once they reach adulthood, and hence they tend to remain trapped in the same condition of poverty as their parents. All of this implies that, within a sufficient time-frame, the facilitation of individual decisions on reproductive patterns, which is tantamount to overcoming demographic inequity, will directly help to overcome inequity in its broadest, socio-economic sense. The above-mentioned considerations on respect for individual rights and elimination of inequity are especially relevant to the study of the status of women, whose difficult social situation in both senses is particularly marked.

In sum, there is a clear compatibility between measures to help the poorest strata realize their desire for smaller families and the requirements of changing production patterns. Having fewer children will help these families and the State to concentrate resources and efforts on improving the quality of human resources, which is one of the pillars of changing production patterns with social equity.

Among the demographic changes recorded in recent decades are those relating to the population's territorial distribution. The pace of urbanization has accelerated, with the proportion of people living in cities reaching 71%. This has negatively affected environmental conditions in urban areas, and has been accompanied by equally significant effects on the occupation of rural areas. Consequently, the Governments of the region have expressed their wish to design and implement policies to orient internal migration, but they have had to face the fact that, given the complexity of the causes of such migration, their chances of influencing spatial distribution lie not so much in direct action as in the influence of their economic and social policies in general on the determinants of migration.

Similar observations can be made in the case of international migration. For example, government concern over the loss of qualified human resources can be channelled most effectively through development policies that encourage people to remain in their home country, rather than measures that seek to regulate the flow of emigration directly.

 Population policies

 The foregoing considerations help to identify the possible range of population policies. First of all, the three traditional variables of population dynamics –fertility, mortality and migration– deserve government attention. This should be a double-edged concern: that the evolution of demographic variables be compatible with the development process in terms of production, social equity and sustainability, and that this evolution reflect the free exercise of individual rights. A broad area of complementarity exists between these two dimensions.

Second, since demographic phenomena are interrelated with socio-economic dynamics as a whole, population policies should be implemented in the context of development policy in general, and of social policy in particular. This approach more clearly distinguishes the specific fields in which population policy can have a relatively direct impact –such as actions relating to fertility– from those in which population policy works mainly through areas conventionally identified with other spheres of government action. Examples of the latter include morbidity- and mortality-related policy in the form of general actions in the health sector, and migration policy which, apart from government regulatory action, is influenced by the broad spectrum of policies to promote development. The more direct nature of fertility control policies should not, however, be interpreted as a sign of disconnectedness from the entire package of social policies.

The implementation of a population policy conceived in these terms therefore precludes an autonomous, compart- mentalized vision on the part of the policy itself or of the public institutions in charge of it. Population goals should neither be set independently of economic and social development policies nor be pursued by entities unrelated to government development agencies. Institutional arrangements should clearly identify those responsible for designing the policy and for following up and evaluating its results (for example, an inter-ministerial committee assisted by an ad hoc technical team). Above all, the capacity of bodies such as ministries of education and health, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community organizations, should be tapped through invitations to participate in policy implementation with concrete programmes of action. The region has had varied experience in this area –including both successes and failures– on which Governments undoubtedly will want to capitalize.

The field of external migration also affords ample opportunity for international cooperation. Indeed, the bilateral conventions and other policy-coordinating mechanisms in force today are in need of improvements and amplifications which –without prejudice to the sovereign right of every State to regulate movements of foreigners in its territory– will help clarify the rights of the migrating population and minimize conflicts concerning this highly sensitive and fluctuating phenomenon.

International technical cooperation, both bilateral and multilateral, has played an important role in the region since the initiation of national population activities, particularly with regard to family planning, education on population issues and data collection. The rapidly changing constellation of demographic variables and the heterogeneity of their behaviour among and within countries mean that, in the foreseeable future, population problems will be no less important and complex than in the past, and that the role of international cooperation will therefore remain crucial. The fact that some overall indicators, such as the region's average growth rate, have changed dramatically could erroneously suggest that the region deserves less attention and cooperation than it has been receiving.

In particular, neither international cooperation nor national efforts should be limited to the most direct and immediate actions in the field of population, but should meet the need to analyse, as fully as possible and on an ongoing basis, the region's shifting demographic reality. The latter constitutes a rich laboratory in which much can be learned about the complex linkages between population, development and the environment in a context of democratic progress for the benefit of the countries that make up the region and, to some extent, of countries in other parts of the developing world.

 Contents of chapters

 The following chapters discuss in greater detail the facts, conclusions and policy considerations summed up in this introduction. Chapter I outlines the evolution of population dynamics at the regional and country levels, using a typology based on the descriptive scheme of the so-called demographic transition. Next, it focuses separately on changes in fertility and mortality, dwelling on topics of particular importance such as adolescent fertility, infant mortality and certain pending challenges, such as the persistence of maternal mortality, and then examines the implications of all of the above for the population's growth and age structure.

Chapter II describes the proposal on changing production patterns with social equity in a context of environmental sustainability and democratic development. In this context, it identifies the three main areas of linkage between changing production patterns and population: human resources, with emphasis on quality; social equity; and environmental sustainability.

Chapters III and IV discuss two topics which –as noted earlier– constitute basic concerns of the international community and have priority on the United Nations agenda, namely, women and environmental sustainability. In both cases, emphasis is placed on the study of these topics' relationship to the population variable, and, especially on the fact that their linkage to population is difficult to separate from their connection with socio-economic dynamics as a whole.

The chapter on women and population takes up and further examines a number of topics, such as the exercise of reproductive rights and the situation of displaced and refugee women. The chapter on environmental sustainability expands upon previous studies on the environment and natural resources by viewing these topics in conjunction with that of the population's territorial occupation or spatial distribution. This approach reveals that, besides taking overall measurements of demographic pressure on natural resources, it is vitally important to analyse local ecosystems, which vary greatly in this regard and therefore lend themselves more easily to the definition and application of specific policy measures.

Chapter V deals with national population policy, briefly examining the foundations thereof and –without offering a detailed historical account– analysing various experiences in this field. Its main conclusion is that concerns should not focus exclusively on the implementation of specific institutional schemes, but should explore how to take advantage of pre-existing government bodies that could collaborate efficiently in policy design and implementation. After considering some potential policy guidelines, including target-setting, the chapter goes on to discuss programmes for more direct action on population variables, i.e., family planning programmes, in greater detail.

Lastly, chapter VI considers separately the topics which, while amply deserving of national concern, are inherently suited to international cooperation. International migration is the first of these. After discussing migration both within and outside the region in some detail, the chapter analyses its main implications for the development process and presents some reflections on possibilities for action offered by national policies and international cooperation. Lastly, it describes some aspects of the World Population Plan of Action, which was adopted and updated, respectively, at the two world conferences held thus far (Bucharest, 1974 and Mexico City, 1984).


Notes 

(1) This variation in population dynamics is also reflected in other important variables, such as the ratio of natural resources to population size.

(2) Demographic inequity is seen not only in terms of fertility but also in respect of migration and in the mortality variable, especially infant mortality.


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