Average fertility in the third world has fallen from 6 children per woman in the 1960s to about 4 in the 1980s. Global population growth, however, is still adding nearly a billion people a decade—a process that has large, mostly adverse, welfare implications. Fertility trends in the main third world regions and in selected countries are described. Differences in social and political organization, economic conditions, cultural orientations, and policy directions yield distinctive paths of fertility decline. Explanations of them exhibit the range and variety of theories of social change in general. Matters of contention include the appropriate scope of an economic calculus in fertility decision-making and the relative significance of “structural” and “cultural” content in characterizing the decision environment and its sources of change. Much fertility research has been concerned with issues in technical demography such as birth interval dynamics or, in the case of policy, with the operational problems of family planning programs. A redressing of this imbalance is needed, making for a less microanalytic theoretical stance and greater attention to the public choice dimensions of fertility policy.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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