Sunday, October 23, 2011

Barefoot & Pregnant? Not so much! Explaining Fertility Rates in the Developing USSR

To cap off a weekend of rather more maximum lefty blogging than I usually do, I thought I'd give you a little taste of the book I'm currently enjoying, Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution by Robert C. Allen.

Yes, I did say "enjoying."  Stop laughing.  It's really interesting!

Basically he looks at the data concerning the rise of industry in the USSR, especially during the 1920s - 1940s in order to explain how the USSR rose from a backward agricultural society to a superpower and then back again.  One of the subjects he looks at is the history of Russian population growth and it was in this section that I found a really interesting passage I'd like to share.

The growth of USSR looks a lot like the growth of many other Third World countries, like Mexico or India.  And the question is, why didn't the Soviet Union experience huge population growth?  Well, his analysis found that when you factor in the impact of the forced agricultural collectivism, the drive of men to the cities and the effects of World War II, the USSR had significant downward pressure on it's population.  But another factor also exerted a strong downdraft on population growth:
It should be stressed, moreover, that fertility did not fall due to declining living standards or political oppression; indeed, poverty and oppression typically breed children.  Instead, fertility fell in the USSR for the same reasons it drops anywhere in the Third World: the creation of a modern urban society and the education of women.  Of course, these changes were the results of communist policies and ideology but not the repression of the Stalinist regime.
This is why programs that advocate the education of women are so important.  Even within the United States, I would expect fertility and literacy / education to be highly correlated.  The world data are compelling and support the conclusions drawn by the author for the USSR.
World Fertility / Literacy numbers.  From The European Environment Agency.

While Stalin was a horror, it was, in fact, his government's policies to educate women that helped drive the birth rate down.  This, in turn, had long-term impacts on the economic trajectory of the USSR ensuring that the GDP/person remained viable for a modern, industrial economy.

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