Ironically, even as the U.S. has sharply cut back its efforts on helping poor countries to reduce fertility rates, the evidence is overwhelming that rapid, voluntary and highly beneficial transitions to low fertility rates are possible. Such transitions can be promoted through a sensible four-part strategy. First, promote child survival. When parents have the expectation that their children will survive, they choose to have fewer children, with a net effect of slower population growth. Second, promote girls' education and gender equality. Girls in school marry later, and empowered young women enter the labor force and choose to have fewer children. Third, promote the availability of contraception and family planning, especially for the poor who cannot afford such services on their own. Fourth, raise productivity on the farm. Income-earning mothers use their scarce time in productive employment rather than childrearing.
These four steps can reduce fertility rates quickly and dramatically, say from five or more children per fertile woman to three or fewer within 10 to 15 years, as has occurred in Iran, Tunisia and Algeria among other countries. Many African leaders are waking up to this imperative, realizing that their nations cannot surmount their deep economic woes with populations that double every generation. The rich countries will find eager counterparts in the poor countries if they rise to the occasion and help those countries in the vital task of rapid and voluntary fertility reduction. It's the least we should do, for our own security, the fight against poverty and the preservation of the Earth's fragile environment.