A House-Senate conference committee, with significant input from the White House, is currently striving to produce a compromise stimulus bill
that will satisfy all three players. One item that won’t be in the bill is funding for family planning, which was nixed from the House version late last month. The proposal to include money for contraception—which would have been part of a bundle of funds to help states with Medicaid costs
—faced high-profile opposition from conservatives
, who argued that it would not stimulate the economy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, responding to the criticism, countered, “The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now…one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception—will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government
It turns out that the debate over whether population growth is a net gain or loss for the economy has been going on for decades. According to Population Matters: Demographic Change, Economic Growth, and Poverty in the Developing World (see ECSP event), edited by Nancy Birdsall, Allen Kelly, and Steven Sinding, in developing countries, rapid population growth slows economic growth, and rapid fertility decline reduces poverty. Furthermore, as described in “Poor Health, Poor Women: How Reproductive Health Affects Poverty,” research by Margaret Greene and Thomas Merrick found that poor reproductive health—which includes unmet need for family planning—negatively impacts certain measures of poverty, including health and educational attainment.
Academics aren’t the only ones exploring these concepts; the popular press has also taken on the question of how population growth affects economic growth. The Christian Science Monitor published “Can Obama’s family-planning policies help the economy?,” which Population Connection’s Marian Starkey criticized for failing to adequately answer the question in its headline. MarketWatch published an op-ed contending that population growth is the world’s biggest economic problem. On the other side of the debate, the Wall Street Journal argued, “A smaller workforce can result in less overall economic output. Without enough younger workers to replace retirees, health and pension costs can become debilitating. And when domestic markets shrink, so does capital investment.”
Population-poverty links are incredibly complex, and it’s worth paying attention to the different dynamics between—and among—developing and developed countries, as well as the distinction between the larger goal of economic growth and the more targeted aim of jumpstarting an economy out of a recession. Nevertheless, policymakers don’t have to be flying blind when it comes to the question of whether access to contraceptives affects economic growth. Demographers and economists have been studying these relationships for a long time, and although they may never have complete answers, they have already come up with some valuable insights.