What is the effect of overpopulation in India

Contemporary historical research
Studies in Contemporary History


In 1968 the biologist Paul Ehrlich, who teaches at Stanford University, published a book that climbed the bestseller lists within weeks: "The Population Bomb". This bomb threatens to tear the entire earth into a vortex of famine, environmental problems and distribution struggles. Her fuse, according to Ehrlich, had already been lit, parts of the world had been shaken by explosions. “Mentally,” wrote Ehrlich, “the problem of the population explosion has been clear to me for a long time, but emotionally I only grasped it a few years ago on a hot, foul-smelling night in Delhi. Together with my wife and daughter, I was on the way home to our hotel in an ancient taxi. It was almost forty degrees and the air was thick with dust and smoke. The streets were full of people. People who ate, washed, slept, people chatted, argued and screamed. Who put their hands through the taxi window and begged. Those who urinated and emptied their bowels. Clinging to buses and driving cattle. People, people, people, people. As the car drove slowly through the crowds, honking loudly, dust, noise, heat and fire pits gave the scene something hellish. Would we ever reach our hotel? ”1

This horror scenario contained what demographers and other scholars, civil society actors, and ultimately politicians and the public, identified as a global problem of catastrophic proportions: the faceless, intimidating crowd; the chaotic coexistence and juxtaposition of innumerable - surplus - people; unbridled reproduction and poor hygiene; lack of food, hunger and unemployment. Ehrlich described a quantitative and a qualitative problem. In his view, there were too many people - a phenomenon widely known as "overpopulation". The problem became particularly important because it came from those who could not read and write, who barely fed themselves, who gave birth to children who would die of hunger, and who wasted resources that could be used more sensibly in other ways could. Overpopulation, population bomb, population explosion - these are terms in which the individual plays no role and behind which a biological and socio-political nightmare is hidden: the “meaning of the insignificant”.

For some years now, questions of population history have received increased attention in historical research. A group of historians recently presented a publication that examines the transdisciplinary roots of population history, its international dimension and the relationship between politics and science in the period from around 1900 to 1960.2 Even if some authors look across the border to the Focusing on Switzerland, France or Great Britain, the volume mainly deals with developments in historical demography in Germany. The focus on Germany and the interest in the history of science apply to a number of other publications that examine the period up to 1933 and National Socialism in particular.3 Thomas Etzemüller dealt with the topic of “population” in discourse analysis.4 He uses a Swedish-German comparison for the purposes of this one to refer to the transnational character of population discourses. On the other hand, Etzemüller clearly shows that forecasts about future developments have repeatedly proven to be misleading and that current debates about “aging”, “childless society” and the “demographic problem” are ideologically charged.


The growth of the world population, which, according to UN estimates, will probably not stagnate until around 2050 with a total of around 9.2 billion people, is certainly a phenomenon that has an impact on the environment, economic growth and the coexistence of societies and states. 5 It would be irresponsible to view population growth (only) as an imaginary construct. It is true that the dangers of global population growth for the stability of Western societies, often invoked by experts, have not yet come true. Nor can one speak of a global food shortage. There is no doubt, however, that local starvation disasters, migrations or even domestic and international conflicts are associated with rapidly or unevenly growing populations.

This article is less about a critical assessment of previous demographic forecasts. Rather, I would like to show how and why a phenomenon that was initially only perceived as a problem by a few experts developed into a global discourse about the present and future of humanity. The following key questions structure the article: How and why did American demographers identify the population as a problem around 1945? How did they succeed in legitimizing themselves, popularizing their ideas and finding partners who had the material resources to make the population as a problem aware of national and international decision-makers? Which basic assumptions and developments made population policy a global discourse? 6

Let me start with three hypotheses, which will be briefly outlined here and further developed:

• The thesis of overpopulation followed seamlessly from pre-war population discourses. However, it no longer gained its explosiveness in the societies of Europe and North America, but in the context of the Cold War and decolonization in the “Third World”. Demographers postulated a close connection between population growth in the “third world” and security in the western world.


• The experts were only able to popularize and ultimately implement their ideas with the help of influential civil society actors. Without the massive support of American foundations, it would not have been possible in the course of the 1960s to establish global population policy networks and to unite national governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations with the aim of curbing population growth. This process makes it clear that civil society action is not, as is often assumed, good per se and oriented towards the common good, but can be associated with social differentiation and exclusion

• Discourses on population policy and the politics of population control can be understood as “reproductive westernization ”.8 What is meant here is the global implementation of the western norm that small families are the basis of society. Westernization usually refers to a transfer of values ​​that is about the liberalization and democratization of societies.9 However, population control has another basis: It is an expression of social differentiation, status thinking and societal privilege. Population policy aimed to preserve social and economic privileges of individuals and societies and to consolidate class-specific values ​​of the middle and upper classes.

1. The anamnesis of the discourse

The discourse about population, whose lines of argument can be traced back to the 17th century, was based after 1945 on three different, but interlinked, biopolitical complexes of ideas and theories.10 First, there was the theory of the English preacher Thomas Malthus and Malthusianism ; second, about eugenics; and thirdly, the theory of the “demographic transition” .11 A comprehensive reconstruction of these biopolitical paradigms is not to be undertaken here. It is sufficient to state key assumptions. A characteristic of Malthusian considerations was and is the thesis that food production in the future will no longer be able to keep pace with the global increase in population and that famine disasters are therefore inevitable.12 With regard to eugenics, its representatives have very different ideological and socio-political ideas The central biopolitical conviction should be pointed out in particular: eugenicists believed that they could improve the "quality" of individual people and thus ultimately of entire populations through social hygienic and socio-political measures.13 Regardless of their scientific discrediting in the 1920s and the likelihood of leaders Eugenicists for the "racial laws" of the National Socialists survived the Second World War relatively unscathed by eugenic networks. On the basis of elitist ideas of race and class, they campaigned for similar measures after 1945 as before. In Sweden and Japan, for example, sterilizations based on eugenic indications have been legally anchored.


The demographic transition theory was particularly influential in the post-war population policy discourse. Building on considerations from the interwar period, it was developed in connection with American post-war planning by the demographers Frank Notestein and Kingsley Davis in 1944/45.14 The theory postulated a universal and unilinear development of societies in a continuum that ranged from “traditional” to “pre-transitional”. to “modern” or “post-transitional ”.15 It is no coincidence that the theory read like an early variant of the modernization theories that dominated the global development policy discourse from the end of the 1950s. Like the leading modernization theorists, Davis was a student of Talcott Parsons, whose systemic social theory laid the basis for modernization theory

The theory of the demographic transition stated that population growth was particularly high during industrialization because initially only death rates fell due to better food, hygiene and medical care, but not fertility rates. Only in a second phase, during which industrialization changed norms and values ​​and traditional social structures were replaced by the nuclear family, did the birth rate fall. The theory covered quantitative aspects of demographic developments. But it also had a qualitative dimension: It operated with a hierarchical cultural matrix that raised the “Western world” to the standard and disqualified “backward” societies with their high proportion of illiterate and underemployed people as imperfect forms. From this, American demographers derived a political demand that actually contradicted the theory. Observation of Western societies suggested that falling birth rates followed economic growth and increasing prosperity. However, assumptions that assumed an analogous development for the “Third World” could not prevail. Rather, most demographers argued that high birth rates hampered economic growth there. With no empirical evidence to support this view, they believed that improved contraceptive methods in the “Third World” would lower birth rates and enable greater prosperity. Or, as Kingsley Davis put it in 1953: "[Fertility control] may thus help to solve one of the worst afflictions of modern times, the aimless and economically deleterious multiplication of human numbers."

Population experts see themselves as producers and mediators of knowledge. However, many also wanted to actively participate in solving the social problems they had identified, including through political advice and technocratic control in the areas of birth control and family planning. Population experts were not alone with this claim to application-oriented science. The "scientification of the social" encompassed large areas of modern society since around 1870. It played a particular role in the "knowledge society" after 1945, which was shaped by planning and reform thinking social engineering an increasingly important role.18 Economists, medical professionals, spatial planners and many other experts also claimed sovereignty and "competence competence". What differentiated population experts from other experts was the global dimension of their research subject and the conviction that population growth could ultimately only be slowed by global interventions.


2. Actors and networks

In the interwar period, Malthusians, eugenicists and demographers organized themselves in transnational networks, held congresses, carried out research and advised politics. In view of the global political challenges that the international community of states faced after 1945, the population experts saw themselves as privileged actors in the political advisory process from the start. With catchphrases like “overpopulation”, “population bomb” or “demographic equilibrium”, demographers waged a real campaign to spread population control around the world after the Second World War. Within two decades, a relatively small group of experts succeeded in making population policy a central issue in American development policy, in calling the United Nations and countless non-governmental organizations into action, and in significantly advancing international research on contraception, as well as the organizational and material basis for Establish population control programs (later referred to as family planning).

The political scientist Peter Haas has proposed the concept of the “epistemic community” for the phenomenon outlined here - the acquisition of interpretative sovereignty by social groups.19 This means a network of experts who have recognized knowledge and competence in a clearly defined area. This community lays claim to interpretative sovereignty and the passing on of policy-relevant knowledge. Its members share a definable set of values, a clearly defined ensemble of causal assumptions and common ideas of how these should be implemented in politics. Epistemic communities can organize themselves nationally and transnationally. In general, they are in demand when politicians see a need for advice, need orientation in a crisis or want to overcome a state of uncertainty. The case presented here is somewhat different, as the initiative for political action clearly came from the population experts: They produced knowledge over a longer period of time with the aim of triggering a political shock, as a result of which they would be asked for a solution.

The epistemic community of population experts saw a need for research and action after the Second World War in connection with the two central developments in the international system: decolonization and the Cold War. With the independence of India in August 1947 and the victory of the communists in the Chinese civil war in 1949, the “Third World” moved to the center of the considerations of population experts. Three central problems dominated the discussions: How could populous countries like India overcome “underdevelopment” and “backwardness”? How could it be prevented that, after China, even more “Third World” countries would fall victim to communism? And how was it to be achieved that population-political crises in the “Third World” did not endanger the industrialized world? There seemed to be basically only two answers to these questions: development policy planning and population growth containment. At least this is the conclusion reached by an American delegation of population experts led by Frank Notestein, who traveled to East and South Asia in the fall of 1948.20


Since the late 1930s, Notestein was director of the only demographic research institute in the United States, the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. In 1946 he was appointed the first director of the UN Population Division, a small organization that carried out purely quantitative demographic studies. His successor, Pascal Whelpton, in office since 1948, was, like Notestein, a long-time director of the American Eugenics Society. The UN Population Division worked closely with UNESCO's first director general, biologist and leading English eugenicist Julian Huxley. Various eugenic societies also supported the first international congress of population experts in the post-war period, to which around 80 scientists traveled to Geneva in the late summer of 1949 - among them leading eugenicists and demographers such as Alfred Sauvy, Jean Sutter, Frank Lorimer and Henry Platt Fairchild.21 The most important result The Geneva Conference was the establishment of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP). Its aim was and is to “draw the attention of governments, supranational organizations, non-governmental organizations and the general public to population problems”. It is true that qualitative aspects of population policy have been discredited in the past by racial or class prejudices.Regardless of this, science must continue to deal with “qualitative aspects of the population and their relationship to migration and reproduction” .22 There should not be any bans on thinking.

While the IUSSP was primarily scientifically oriented and above all supported research on population policy, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), founded in 1952, pursued clear political goals. It went back to an initiative of four women, some of whom had campaigned for eugenics for decades: the American Margaret Sanger, who for a long time had campaigned for the emancipation of women, for the approval of contraceptives and also for eugenic control of populations entered; Marie Stopes from England, also a women's rights activist and a leading eugenicist during the interwar period; Elise Ottesen-Jensen, Sweden's leading women's rights activist; and finally the Indian Rama Rau, who, like Sanger and Stopes, is a eugenicist and an outspoken advocate of population control programs in her country.23 The IPPF, today the umbrella organization for family planning organizations in more than 40 countries, advocated the release of contraceptives and the emancipation of women. Especially in the early phase of the organization, however, the endeavor to stop population growth, especially of the socially disadvantaged, through birth control dominated.

By the early 1950s, a transnational network of population experts had formed. With the help of conferences, magazines and organizations, they communicated with each other and made their demands public. With a few exceptions, however, population control was initially not an issue of national or international politics. Certainly, in India and also in China there have been tentative family policy efforts to slow down population growth. However, power struggles by pro and anti-natalist actors and changes in politics ensured that neither the Indian nor the Chinese governments took consistent measures to limit population growth


Regardless of ideological, religious or socio-economic differences, governments in large parts of the world pursued decidedly pro-natalistic policies. In the western hemisphere, men made it difficult for women to access the labor market after the war by obliging them to carry out their “actual” function and destiny as mothers. The age at marriage fell steadily during the 1950s, reaching an average of just 20.1 years for women in the United States around 1960. That was desired politically and socially. Population-political studies have shown that young married women usually had more children than women who only married at a slightly older age. In Great Britain the birthrate rose by 11 percent compared to the pre-war period, in France by 33 percent (1949). Tax incentives in all western states should increase the number of newborns. With the exception of Sweden, contraceptives were banned in large parts of Western Europe during the 1950s; in France only condoms were allowed until 1967. The state of Massachusetts banned the sale of any contraceptive until 1970 - and Massachusetts was no exception. Thanks to falling death rates and rising birth rates, the population of the western world grew rapidly.25

Against the background of this pronatalistic basic constellation, which is not very easy for population experts, the call for control and restriction might have gone unheard for a while. But in the shape of a man and two foundations, the epistemic community of population experts found partners who made a decisive contribution to the global popularization of the topic: John D. Rockefeller III, philanthropist, internationalist and American patriot, as well as the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation. 26

Medical, social hygiene and demographic research institutions had already been supported by American foundations in the prewar period - for example in the United States itself, in Ireland, France, the Soviet Union and also in Germany. In Brazil, China and India, the Rockefeller Foundation had sponsored projects since the 1920s to introduce Western social hygiene standards, but also to reduce the birth rate of the poor.27 After the Second World War, John D. Rockefeller, trustee since 1931, devoted himself to it of the foundation, primarily population policy issues. At his invitation, biologists, economists, health scientists and demographers met in Washington in 1952 for a conference at which the Population Council was founded. This representation of the interests of the population experts, closely linked personally and institutionally with American eugenicists into the 1970s, committed itself to a clearly understandable message: The population growth in the “Third World” and also among the poorer classes in the USA was alarming and a serious one poses a social threat. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundation sponsored the Population Council, which had its headquarters with the American Eugenics Society in a house on New York's Park Avenue, with many millions of dollars. The Ford Foundation alone invested over $ 270 million in population policy activities between 1952 and the late 1960s. 28


The two leading American foundations were impressed by the warnings from the population experts. In view of a rather indifferent or pronatalistic climate of opinion in the USA and a political elite that considered the topic to be unimportant, morally questionable or, in case of doubt, politically inopportune, the foundations saw it as their task, the topic and the experts and institutions behind it to promote. In terms of self-image, on promoting the elite, social engineering and internationality, there was hardly a more suitable terrain for the two foundations than population and family policy. Because they agreed on one thing: the wrong women would have too many children. This posed a tremendous risk to the United States in general, and to the American middle class in particular - a security risk that had military, environmental, and economic implications.

In 1950 there were three universities in the United States where population policy could be studied as an MA program. Over the next 15 years, the Ford Foundation helped set up 16 more programs. Investments totaled over $ 45 million by the mid-1970s. These university programs primarily dealt with population issues in the “Third World”; practitioners were trained to help set up population control programs overseas. In their research, the population experts concentrated on the relationship between economic development and population, on statistical surveys and population policy projections, and on sociological studies on reducing the birth rate of socially disadvantaged Americans. The foundations were not only active in the United States itself. They were involved in setting up family planning programs in South Korea, Taiwan and Pakistan, set up research centers on population policy in Delhi (1952), Bombay (1956), Santiago (1957) and Cairo (1963), and sent American population experts to the "Third World" and awarded scholarships to young doctoral students and postdocs there. Without the support of the foundations, the population-political infrastructure that arose in the United States and the “Third World” by the mid-1960s would not have existed.29

The development of this infrastructure was largely related to the rapid increase in world population. In this respect, the phenomenon pointed out by population experts was not a mere construct. Between 1750 and 1900 the world population doubled from 850 million to 1.7 billion people. In the 20th century, growth accelerated from 0.5 to 1.0 percent per year around 1950 and to 2 percent thereafter. In 1945 Frank Notestein had forecast a world population of 3 billion people for the year 2000.30 In the following decades, however, all forecasts turned out to be too low. In 1950 there were around 2.5 billion people in the world, by 1980 there were 4.8 billion.31 However, the connection postulated by demographers between population growth and a lack of economic growth in the “third world” could not be proven. Likewise, Malthusian warnings of massive starvation disasters were never based on empirical findings, but on unfounded, value-oriented assumptions. Data from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) showed that food production rose faster than population growth: between 1954 and 1973, the population of industrialized countries grew by 22 percent, grain production rose by 65 percent, and per capita production increased 35 percent. In the non-communist developing world, the population grew by 61 percent, grain production by 75 percent, and per capita production by 9 percent.32 Nonetheless, the alarmist tenor of demographic publications increased in the course of the 1950s. Apocalypse scenarios conjured up the catastrophic effects of ideological system conflict and unbridled population growth on the stability and future viability of Western societies. 33


3. Demographics and Political Action

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed a commission to investigate American development and military aid. Its chairman, the investment banker and former General William H. Draper, summed up the results of the investigations before the Senate in May 1959 in a simple diagnosis: “The population problem [...] is the greatest bar to our whole economic aid program and to the progress of the world. ”34 Draper's declaration caused a sensation worldwide. However, President Eisenhower refused to raise the issue publicly.35 Reproduction is a private matter that is not of any government's business.

The Kennedy administration, influenced by the theory of modernization, saw things differently: private affairs were definitely of socio-political importance. Kennedy gave the "mandarins of the future" such as the modernization theorist and director of the political planning staff in the State Department, Walt Whitman Rostow, or the foreign minister and former President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dean Rusk, the necessary leeway to become active in population policy.36 As worrying analysts from the foreign ministry and secret services saw the growth of the world population as a whole, but the different birth rates in the developed and the developing world were even more serious.37 For this was an important factor in the systematic dispute with communism.

In order to be able to better assess the implications of the phenomenon, the US State Department set up a department for population issues for the first time in August 1961.38 However, the administration was initially completely unclear about how to deal with population issues in public and in an international context. Population policy recommendations to other states were considered morally questionable and politically counterproductive. Domestically, too, the issue was sensitive. According to the Foreign Ministry's assessment, it was obviously a concern of a certain “class” of “highly educated”, “quite prominent people in their respective contexts.” 39 Indeed: In the West, the population policy discourse was an elite discourse in which philanthropic concerns, Fears of status and the belief in the controllability of reproduction were put down. It was similar in other parts of the world. In India, for example, the proponents of family planning programs were predominantly members of the higher castes who were socialized in the West and often also influenced by eugenic ideas. They saw the difference in birth rates between high and low castes as a threat to their status and privileges. Just like white women and men in the West, they therefore advocated programs to reduce the birth rate of the poor. 40


In the United States, one person brought civil society actors and government to join forces: William H. Draper, arguably the most influential lobbyist among population experts in the 1960s. On his initiative, Secretary of State Dean Rusk met representatives from over 30 foundations for a one-day conference on the subject of “population explosion” in the prestigious New York Council on Foreign Relations in the fall of 1962. The conference left a lasting impression: “Rusk said that something like an 'explosion' of interest in population problems seemed to be taking place.” 41 The “explosion” of interest noted by Rusk had various causes, but was not related to an immediate population crisis or food shortages back. Rather, it reflected the interaction of two very different phenomena: years of successful public relations work on population policy and decolonization in Africa. While the continent was widely regarded by American politics and the public as the domain of the Europeans in the 1950s, doubts about the ability to govern and the "maturity" of African elites grew in the course of decolonization. A cover picture of “Time Magazine” from January 1960 paradigmatically illustrates the connection between real population growth, cultural prejudices and media charge: At the center of the cover, which shows women of different ethnic and cultural origins with their babies, is the only half-clad African woman her child. 42

Kennedy's successor Lyndon B. Johnson made the subject of population his own. In his annual message to the nation in January 1965, he declared that he was looking for “new ways to use our knowledge to help deal with the explosion in world population and the growing scarcity in world resources” .43 With this, population policy was now officially recognized as a political challenge the basic conflict identified: How could the individual decisions about the number of children be reconciled with their collective effects?

The International Planned Parenthood Federation and other population-related organizations had therefore long campaigned for the spread of contraceptives and education in the “Third World”. This message had arrived in the mid-1960s, in the guise of modernization and emancipation. The population controllers agreed that women around the world were desperately looking for methods to reduce the number of their children - to be more independent from men and to enable fewer children to survive and health. Margaret Sanger and other activists didn't just have a theory to solve the problem. Sanger's colleague Katherine McCormick, suffragette, philanthropist and heiress worth millions, has been funding the research of biochemist Gregory Goodwin Pincus with a total of two million dollars since 1952. This led to the development of the pill and its market launch in 1960. The pill was linked to a specific expectation: it should help to reduce the population growth of the poor in the “third world” The care of the women there proved to be unrealistic, population experts resorted to the plastic spiral, also developed in 1960.45


Efforts to control population growth in developing countries had become official American policy by the late 1960s. The congress supported their implementation with considerable funds; It has now been morally legitimized by three former presidents - Truman, Eisenhower and Johnson - as well as by incumbent President Nixon. In 1967, for the first time, Congress approved funds for family policy programs in the “Third World” amounting to $ 10.5 million.46 Government funds for family policy in the “Third World” seldom exceeded 4 percent of total US economic and military aid; With 120 to 180 million dollars annually in the period 1972-1980, however, the sums were quite considerable. In addition, the American government began to make the granting of development or disaster aid dependent on population policy measures in the recipient countries. For example, American grain deliveries to famine-threatened India were tied to the employment of American population experts in 1966. In other cases, too, development projects were made dependent on whether the recipient country was willing to accept population experts. In many countries, population policy objectives were linked to loan commitments.47 In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, until recently there was no other motivation for the implementation of family programs than the corresponding request from donors.48

4. The globalization of discourse

The population policy discourse in the 1950s was primarily initiated by population experts and American foundations.During the 1960s, it was then largely taken up and promoted by the American government. Successful population policy programs have been implemented by the governments of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. There were family planning programs in other countries during this period as well. But in view of inadequate material equipment, such as in Pakistan, these were considered ineffective.49

At the international level, it was initially the Scandinavian countries who tried to put the issue on the agenda of UN organizations. As a pioneer in development cooperation and as a smaller donor, they were interested in multilateral cooperation from an early stage. Global population policy essentially meant the globalization of the Scandinavian welfare state model, which was based on a high degree social engineering and trust in the creative power of state planning. Looking at the social hygiene and socio-political discourse in Sweden in the 1930s, interesting continuities emerge from the population discourse of the 1950s. In response to the global economic crisis, Swedish social democracy systematically expanded the welfare state in the 1930s. The “people's home” should offer protection from the upheavals of the market and open up opportunities for the workforce. However, the construction of the “people's home” was accompanied by considerable socio-disciplinary measures: Those who were not productive had only limited entitlement to state benefits. This is how the eugenic sterilization laws were established, which until the 1970s affected a total of almost 50,000 women - mostly young women from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and from ethnic minorities (Roma and Sinti). These members of society, who are viewed as unproductive, should be prevented from having unproductive children.50 Social-technical organization, social discipline and planning optimism - the premises of the Scandinavian welfare state were transferred to development policy and, in the interest of population control, found in poor people the "Third World" its expression.


Scandinavian governments tried on various occasions in the 1950s to put population policy on the agenda of UN bodies.51 But Catholic countries such as Ireland vigorously defended themselves against any discussion of the topic.52 However, this did not prevent experts and foundations from putting it on a transnational level Discuss level. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundation funded several conventions on population policy until the mid-1960s. A Belgrade conference on Population from 1965, which - financed by the foundations - was organized by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population and the United Nations, met with worldwide media coverage. Over 2,000 participants and observers from governments discussed population policy issues there. With this, the United Nations - on the initiative and in cooperation with transnational actors - recognized the topic as an important field of global politics for the first time.

The epistemic community of population experts could rightly claim this as their success. Encouraged by the population policy initiatives of the United States, experts and foundations intensified their activities. John D. Rockefeller III got UN Secretary-General U Thant and twelve heads of state to sign a declaration calling for family policies in 1966. By the end of 1967, Rockefeller had received the signatures of a further eighteen heads of state.53 A few months later, the UN Human Rights Conference in Tehran declared the “free and responsible decision of couples about the number and distance of their children” as a human right.54 This declaration did not explicitly call for a limitation the number of children. However, population experts and politicians understood them as legitimation for family planning programs. The recognition of individual family planning as a human right did not end the discussion about different birth rates and the reproduction of the poor. But it withdrew the legitimacy of eugenic justifications for the necessity of population control in particular. The bad taste of class politics should be taken away from family planning and population policy.

After the United Nations had initially ideally accepted the quantitative aspects of the population discourse, from the end of the 1960s onwards a number of UN organizations also dealt institutionally with the subject of population - above all the World Bank and the one founded on American initiative and with American funds The UN Trust Fund for Population Activities.55 Non-governmental organizations and national governments agreed that population policy and family planning could ultimately only be dealt with in an international and transnational context and that only the United Nations had the legitimacy to make population policy a global aspect To make governance, i.e. part of a set of rules and standards that form the basis of global political action. Because population policy touched on fundamental questions of power, sovereignty and the organization of societies and nation states. The sub-Saharan elites have interpreted and continue to interpret family planning to the present day as an attempt by whites to hinder the continent's political and economic development. In their eyes, population policy was part of a “neo-colonial” policy that perpetuated the asymmetrical relations between the West and Africa during the colonial era.56 In addition, many politicians in the “Third World” viewed the population as a power resource - and its growth as a gain in power.57 It is true that around 1970 there were population policy programs in 23 countries. However, only Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea could be described as consistently anti-natalistic. In all other countries, population programs were either underfunded or controversial, at least practically ineffective according to experts.58


International Conferences on Population Control, 1880-1990. Data from: Deborah Barrett / David John Frank, Population Control for National Development: From World Discourse to National Policies, in: John Boli / George M. Thomas (eds.), Constructing World Culture. International Nongovernmental Organizations Since 1875, Stanford 1999, pp. 198-221.

Different interpretations of the theory of demographic transition, the economic significance of population development and the distribution of rich and poor as a whole also determined the discussions at the first World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974, which was explicitly organized by the United Nations. For the first time, this conference was attended by numerous scientists and representatives of non-governmental organizations official delegates from national governments represented. The conference was preceded by intensive lobbying by population experts. At the suggestion of William Draper, UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim declared 1974 the “year of world population ”.59 Bucharest was to be the culmination of the population events and the end of a 30-year struggle to popularize the population issue.

In fact, things turned out differently: At the conference, the states of the southern hemisphere accused the industrialized countries of doing something to reduce the poor, but far too little to alleviate poverty. Family planning is a sideline to socio-economic development. They demanded the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO), which would have to adequately represent the interests and needs of the South. Population control, they argued, is not a prerequisite for economic development. Rather, there will be no reduction in birth rates without economic development. This position was not only represented by the developing countries, which were disappointed by the lofty promises of the “Development Decade” (John F. Kennedy). Ironically, the most influential American proponent of family control programs for decades, John D. Rockefeller III, used the Bucharest forum for a dramatic change of opinion that attracted the attention of the public. According to Rockefeller, population growth is still questionable in terms of development policy and a problem for mankind from a global perspective. But family planning alone cannot improve living conditions and opportunities for people in the “Third World”. Rockefeller therefore demanded a massive increase in Western development aid.60

Such demands went unheeded. In the 1970s in particular, family policy was viewed in the western world, in the UN system, which is financially dependent on the West, and in Asia as the ideal road to socio-economic development. This was particularly true of China, which after 1979 consistently pursued anti-natalist policies that were to enforce the norm of the one-child family with massive pressure.61 Also in India, during the so-called Emergency (1976-1978) - the suspension of parliamentary-democratic procedures and the curtailment of individual freedoms - was ruled authoritarian, bureaucrats from the middle and upper classes established a population control program in which the poor were forced to mass sterilizations and abortions through government pressure and financial incentives. 62


Like no other area of ​​development policy, family policy appeared to be a multifunctional instrument: It met donors' expectations for “meaningful” engagement, was inexpensive and appeared to promote the emancipation of women. Family policy was understood as the implementation of the theory of demographic transition: it should set new norms, change individual behavior and enable economic development. The Western-style nuclear family, in which women could pursue gainful employment alongside or after their job as a mother, was considered the ideal of microsocial organization. As a consequence, the poor abolished themselves, people around the world assigned themselves to a regime in which work was the social and organizational principle of life.

5. Conclusion

Population policy between 1945 and 1975 began with the identification of the phenomenon “global population growth” by a few demographers. It unfolded against the background of an ideologically shaped theoretical contradiction: In the western world, population growth declined as a result of economic and social development. The reverse order was postulated for the “Third World” - only population control enables economic growth. Reducing the number of poor means reducing poverty. The epistemic community of population experts succeeded like hardly any other similarly structured social group in attaining global interpretive sovereignty and popularizing its concerns globally. Population policy issues were communicated and popularized in the 1950s and 1960s with the help of Ford and the Rockefeller Foundation. Philanthropic and humanitarian reasons undoubtedly played a role, and women like Sanger or Stopes in particular felt the potential emancipatory effects of birth control as crucial for their commitment. Many population experts viewed population growth not only as a problem of number, but of quality: Too many poor had too many children - this could endanger the status of the privileged middle and upper classes as well as the security of the western world. After all, national governments, elites in the developed world and also in some developing countries, international organizations and transnational networks pursued the common goal of reducing the birth rate of the poor in the “third world”.

Until the 1970s, population discourses were shaped by ethnic, cultural or social hierarchies. The concerns that have been expressed since the Bucharest Conference (1974) against a rigid policy of family control have, it seems to me, led to a more sensitive approach to the phenomenon of global population growth, at least in the West. The causes of large numbers of children and population growth are seen much more strongly today than they were three decades ago in a lack of socio-economic development. Today's family planning programs have learned from past experiences: They can only be successful in a context that aims to alleviate poverty, improve opportunities and grant freedoms. 63


Population discourses are just one example of a multitude of topics and problems that have been negotiated in an increasingly global communication framework since 1945. Epistemic communities, non-governmental organizations and international organizations play an important role in this. Contemporary historical research, especially in Germany, has so far largely ignored these important topics and left the field to political scientists and international law scholars.64 However, research into global phenomena, actors and organizations (beyond the market) is only just beginning in an international context.65


1 Paul R. Ehrlich, Die Bevölkerungsbombe, Frankfurt a.M. 1973, p. 15 (American first edition: The Population Bomb, New York 1968). See also Sabine Höhler, The Science of “Overpopulation”. Paul Ehrlich's “Population Bomb” as a beacon for the 1970s, in: Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History 3 (2006), pp. 460-464.

2 Historical Social Research / Historical Social Research 31 (2006) H. 4: Population constructions in history, social sciences and politics of the 20th century. Transdisciplinary and international perspectives, ed. by Josef Ehmer, Werner Lausecker and Alexander Pinwinkler. The publication was created in the context of the DFG priority program “Origins, Types and Consequences of the Construct“ Population ”before, during and after the“ Third Reich ””. For a further extensive volume of journals see Tel Aviver Yearbook for German History 35 (2007): Demographie - Demokratie - Geschichte. Germany and Israel.

3 Rainer Mackensen / Jürgen Reulecke (eds.), The construct “population” before, during and after the “Third Reich”, Wiesbaden 2005; Rainer Mackensen (ed.), Population Research and Politics in Germany in the 20th Century, Wiesbaden 2006; Matthias Weipert, increasing people's strength. The debate about population, modernization and nation 1890-1933, Paderborn 2006; Hansjörg Gutberger, Population, Inequality, Selection. Perspectives of social science population research in Germany between 1930 and 1960, Wiesbaden 2006; Patrick Henßler / Josef Schmidt, population science in the making. The spiritual foundations of German population sociology, Wiesbaden 2007.

4 Thomas Etzemüller, An Eternal Downfall. The apocalyptic population discourse in the 20th century, Bielefeld 2007.

5 See the United Nations press release of March 13, 2007, online at URL: http://www.un.org/press/en/2007/pop952.doc.htm.

6 By “discourse” I mean, more colloquially, a debate or an exchange of views in which numerous actors take part. In addition to the “text”, I am particularly interested in the participants in the discourse. See Michael Masert, Discourse, Power and History. Foucault's analysis techniques and historical research, Frankfurt a.M. 2002, pp. 26-30.

7 For a discussion see Frank Adloff, Zivilgesellschaft. Theory and Political Practice, Frankfurt a.M. 2005.

8 Susan Greenhalgh, The Social Construction of Population Science: An Intellectual, Institutional, and Political History of Twentieth-Century Demography, in: Comparative Studies in Society and History 38 (1996), pp. 26-66, here p. 27.

9 Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, How western are the Germans? Americanization and Westernization in the 20th Century, Göttingen 1999; Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire. America’s Advance through 20th Century Europe, Cambridge 2005.

10 For an introduction to Germany, see Josef Ehmer, Population History and Historical Demography 1800-2000, Munich 2004.

11 Deborah Barrett and David John Frank suggest a sequence of discourses that were dominant for their time: pronatalism up to the First World War, eugenics in the interwar period, neo-Malthusianism in the post-war period. This argument seems to me to be shortened; it ignores the parallelism and contextuality of different discourses. See this., Population Control for National Development: From World Discourse to National Policies, in: John Boli / George M. Thomas (eds.), Constructing World Culture. International Nongovernmental Organizations Since 1875, Stanford 1999, pp. 198-221.

12 See for example Niall Ferguson, Malthusian misery’s comeback. With the world population growth outpacing food supply, say goodbye to this era of unlimited improvement, in: Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2007. See especially Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principles of Population [1798], Cambridge 1992.

13 For an introduction see Peter Weingart / Jürgen Kroll / Kurt Bayertz, Rasse, Blut und Gene. History of eugenics and race theory in Germany, Frankfurt a.M. 1988; Mark B. Adams (Ed.), The Wellborn Science. Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil, and Russia, New York 1990; Richard A. Soloway, Demography and Degeneration.Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth-Century Britain, Chapel Hill 1990; Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics. Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, 2nd ed. Cambridge 1995; Stefan Kühl, The International of Racists. The rise and fall of the international movement for eugenics and racial hygiene in the 20th century, Frankfurt a.M. 1997; Edwin Black, War Against the Weak. Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, New York 2003.

14 Simon Szreter, The Idea of ​​Demographic Transition and the Study of Fertility Change: A Critical Intellectual History, in: Population and Development Review 19 (1993), pp. 659-701.

15 Frank W. Notestein, Population - The long view, in: Theodore W. Schulz (ed.), Food for the World, Chicago 1945, pp. 36-57; Kingsley Davis, The World Demographic Transition, in: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 237 (1945), pp. 1-11.

16 Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future. Modernization Theory in Cold War America, Baltimore 2003, pp. 74-96; Michael E. Latham, Modernization as Ideology. American Social Science and 'Nation Building' in the Kennedy Era, Chapel Hill 2000, pp. 21-68.

17 Quoted in: John Caldwell / Pat Caldwell, Limiting Population Growth and the Ford Foundation Contribution, London 1986, p. 28.

18 Lutz Raphael, The scientification of the social as a methodological and conceptual challenge for a social history of the 20th century, in: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 22 (1996), pp. 165-193; Peter Weingart, The Moment of Truth? On the relationship between science, politics, business and the media in the knowledge society, Weilerswist 2001; Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Science in Germany: Thoughts on the Redefinition of Contemporary German History via Scientific Processes, in: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 30 (2004), pp. 275-311; Alexander Nützenadel, Hour of Economists. Science, politics and expert culture in the Federal Republic 1949-1974, Göttingen 2005; Michael Hascher, policy advice from experts. The example of German transport policy in the 19th and 20th centuries, Frankfurt a.M. 2006; Tim Schanetzky, The Great Disenchantment. Economic Policy, Expertise and Society in the Federal Republic 1966 to 1982, Berlin 2007.

19 Peter M. Haas, Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination, in: International Security 46 (1992), pp. 1-35.

20 Michael Balfour et al., Public Health and Demography in the Far East, New York 1950.

21 Dennis Hodgson, The Ideological Origins of the Population Association of America, in: Population and Development Review 17 (1991), pp. 1-34.

22 Quotation from Kühl, Die Internationale der Rassisten (note 13), p. 193f.

23 Ellen Chesler, Women of Valor. Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America, New York 1992, pp. 195f., Pp. 215-217, pp. 371-395; Mathew Thomson, The Problem of Mental Deficiency. Eugenics, Democracy, and Social Policy in Britain, c. 1870-1959, Oxford 1998, p. 184.

24 For China see Xizhe Peng, Demographic Consequences of the Great Leap Forward in China’s Provinces, in: Population and Development Review 13 (1987), pp. 639-670; James Lee / Wang Feng, Malthusian Models and Chinese Realities: The Chinese Demographic System 1700-2000, in: Population and Development Review 25 (1999), pp. 33-65; Thomas Scharping, Chinas Population 1953-1982, Part I-III, Cologne China Studies Online No. 1/1985, No. 2/1985, No. 1/1986; ders., Population History and Population Policy in China: An Overview, Cologne China Studies Online No. 3/2005. On India see Shri Govind Narain, India: The Family Planning Program Since 1965, in: Studies in Family Planning 1 (1968) H. 35, pp. 1-12; Rosanna Ledbetter, Thirty Years of Family Planning in India, in: Asian Survey 24 (1984), pp. 736-758; Matthew Connelly, Population Control in India: Prologue to the Emergency Period, in: Population and Development Review 32 (2006), pp. 629-667, here pp. 640-645.

25 Tony Judt, The History of Europe after the Second World War, Bonn 2005, pp. 368-371; Luke T. Lee / Richard K. Gardiner, Law and Family Planning, in: Studies in Family Planning 2 (1971) H. 4, pp. 81-98.

26 In general, see Robert F. Arnove (ed.), Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism. The Foundations at Home and Abroad, Bloomington 1982; Edward H. Berman, The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy, Albany 1983; Gary R. Hess, Waging the Cold War in the Third World: The Foundations and the Challenges of Development, in: Lawrence J. Friedman / Mark D. McGarvie (eds.), Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History, Cambridge 2003 , Pp. 319-339.

27 Richard Brown, Public Health in Imperialism: Early Rockefeller Programs at Home and Abroad, in: American Journal of Public Health 66 (1976), pp. 897-903; Marcos Cueto (ed.), Missionaries of Science: The Rockefeller Foundation and Latin America, Bloomington 1994; Matthias Weber, race hygiene and genetic research at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry / Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Munich before and after 1933, in: Doris Kaufmann (ed.), History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in National Socialism. Inventory and perspectives of research, Göttingen 2000, pp. 95-111; William H. Schneider (ed.), Rockefeller Philanthropy and Modern Biomedicine. International Initiatives from World War I to the Cold War, Bloomington 2002; Helke Rausch, American "Scientific Philanthropy" in France, Germany and Great Britain between the World Wars, in: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 33 (2007), pp. 73-98.

28 Caldwell / Caldwell, Limiting Population Growth (note 17), p. 1; Kathleen D. McCarthy, From Government to Grassroots Reform: The Ford Foundation’s Population Programs in South Asia, 1959-1981, in: Soma Hewa / Philo Hove (eds.), Philanthropy and Cultural Context. Western Philanthropy in South, East, and Southeast Asia in the 20th Century, Lanham 1997, pp. 129-156.

29 Bernard Berelson, The Present State of Family Planning Programs, in: Studies in Family Planning 1 (1970) H. 57, pp. 1-11; McCarthy, From Government to Grassroots Reform (note 28).

30 Frank Notestein, The Population of the World in the Year 2000, in: Journal of the American Statistical Association 45 (1950), pp. 335-345.

31 World Bank, World Development Report 1984, New York 1984, p. 2.

32 Paul Neurath, From Malthus to the Club of Rome and Back. Problems of Limits to Growth, Population Control, and Migrations, Armonk 1994, p. 171.

33 See e.g. the leading demographic handbook of the 1960s: Philip M. Hauser / Otis Dudley Duncan (eds.), The Study of Population. To Invetory and Appraisal, Chicago 1958, reprinted 1964, p. 119.

34 Quoted in the obituary of William H. Draper, Jr. (1894-1974), in: International Family Planning Digest 1 (1975) H. 1, p. 16. The report is published as: United States President's Committee to Study the United States Military Assistance Program. Conclusions concerning the Mutual Security Program, Washington 1959.

35 See Burton Kaufman, Trade and Aid: Eisenhower’s Foreign Economic Policy 1953-1961, Baltimore 1982, p. 182.

36 Gilman, Mandarins of the Future (note 16).

37 Intelligence Report, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Trends of Population and Gross National Product by Regional and Political Subdivisions, August 18, 1961, National Archives II (hereinafter NA), RG 59 (Department of State), Policy Planning Council, Box 118 , Folder Food & Population.

38 George C. McGhee / Harland Cleveland, Population Problem, August 31, 1961, ibid.

39 Howard Wriggins / Walt Rostow, Notes on Meeting Concerning Population Problem, April 13, 1962, ibid., Box 210, Folder Food & Population.

40 Sanjam Ahluwalia, Demographic Rhetoric and Sexual Surveillance: Indian Middle-Class Advocates of Birth Control, 1902-1940s, in: James H. Mills / Satadru Sen (eds.), Confronting the Body. The Politics of Physicality in Colonial and Post-Colonial India, London 2004, pp. 183-202.

41 Memo of Conversation, Secretary’s Discussion of Population Problems with Foundation Executives, November 20, 1962, NA, RG 59, Policy Planning Council, Box 210, Folder Food & Population.

42http: //www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19600111,00.html.

43 Quoted from Peter J. Donaldson, Nature Against Us. The United States and the World Population Crisis, 1965-1980, Chapel Hill 1990, p. 99.

44 Bettina Rainer, Population Growth as a Global Catastrophe. Apocalypse and Immortality, Münster 2005, pp. 173-182.

45 Michel Thiery, Pioneers of the Intrauterine Device, in: European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care 2 (1997) H. 1, pp. 15-23.

46 John Sharpless, World Population Growth, Family Planning, and American Foreign Policy, in: Journal of Policy History 7 (1995), pp. 72-102; ders., Population Science, Private Foundations, and Development Aid: The Transformation of Demographic Knowledge in the United States, 1945-1965, in: Frederick Cooper / Randall Packard (eds.), International Development and the Social Sciences. Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge, Berkeley 1997, pp. 176-202.

47 Donaldson, Nature Against Us (note 43), pp. 48-51.

48 Nancy Luke / Susan Cotts Watkins, Reactions of Developing-Country Elites to International Population Policy, in: Population and Development Review 28 (2002), pp. 707-733.

49 Pakistan Desk, Department of State, Pakistan-Country Analysis-NSDM 314 Response, Country Situation in 1965, 9.4.1976, NA, RG 286 (US Agency for International Development), Entry 76, Pakistan Family Program, Box 1, Folder HLS 9.

50 Nils Roll-Hansen / Gunnar Broberg (eds.), Eugenics and the Welfare State. Sterilization Policy in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, 2nd ed. Ann Arbor 2005.

51 For the following, see Richard Symonds and Michael Carder, The United Nations and the Population Question, 1945-1970, London 1973.

52 Intelligence Report, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Trends of Population and Gross National Product by Regional and Political Subdivisions, August 18, 1961, NA, RG 59, Policy Planning Council, Box 118, Folder Food & Population.

53 Declaration on World Population: The World Leaders Statement, in: Studies in Family Planning 1 (1968) H. 26, pp. 1ff.

54 United Nations, International Conference on Human Rights, New York 1968, p. 2.

55 Richard Jolly et al., UN Contributions to Development Thinking and Practice, Bloomington 2004, pp. 188-192; Devesh Kapur / John P. Lewis / Richard Webb, The World Bank. Its First Half Century, Vol. 1: History, Washington 1997, p. 695.

56 Aderanti Adepoju, Population Policies in Africa: Problems and Prospects, in: African Affairs 74 (1975), pp. 461-479; Nancy I. Heckel, Population Policies and Laws in Subsaharan Africa, 1975-1985, in: International Family Planning Perspectives 12 (1986), p. 122ff.

57 Like Mao Zedong. See the memorandum of a conversation between Mao and the leader of the Vietnamese communists, Le Duan, November 5, 1970, in: Cold War International History Project (http://www.wilsoncenter.org/cwihp). For context, see Gerry E. Hendershot, Population Size, Military Power, and Antinatal Policy, in: Demography 10 (1973), pp. 517-524.

58 Berelson, The Present State (note 29).

59 Donaldson, Nature against Us (note 43), p. 123.

60 Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus. The Social Cost of the New Scientific Racism, New York 1975, pp. 409f.

61 Susan Greenhalgh, State-Society Links: Political Dimensions of Population Policies and Programs, with Special Reference to China, in: James F. Phillips / John A. Ross (eds.), Family Planning Programs and Fertility, Oxford 1992, p. 277-298; Lucy Jen Huang, Planned Fertility of One-Couple / One-Child Policy in the People’s Republic of China, in: Journal of Marriage and the Family 44 (1982), pp. 775-784.

62 Marika Vicziany, Coercion in a Soft State: The Family Planning Program of India. Part I: The Myth of Voluntarism, in: Pacific Affairs 55 (1982), pp. 373-402; dies., Coercion in a Soft State: The Family Planning Program of India. Part II: The Sources of Coercion, in: Pacific Affairs 55 (1982), pp. 557-592; Emma Tarlo, Unsettling Memories. Narratives of the Emergency in Delhi, London 2003, pp. 176f. u. passim.

63 Amartya Sen, Economy for Humans. Paths to justice and solidarity in the market economy, Frankfurt a.M. 2002, pp. 253-272.

64 As an exception, see, inter alia, Daniel Maul, Menschenrechte, Sozialpolitik und Dekolonisierung. The International Labor Organization (IAO) 1940-1970, Essen 2006; see also Rausch, US American "Scientific Philanthropy" (note 27).

65 The United Nations Intellectual History Project Series, with seven volumes to date, deserves special mention here.