Lecture 5 - Why Is Africa Different?

author: Robert Wyman, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: May 14, 2010,   recorded: January 2009,   views: 3069
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)

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In addition to cultural controls acting to maximize fertility, there are important, and often competing, interests of individual families to limit fertility. Unwanted births are dealt with by infanticide in many cultures. Additionally, fertility is regularly controlled by limiting marriage within a culture. Another very important factor in population growth, especially in the tropics, is food availability. Heavy rains in the tropics wash nutrients away, leaving deficient soils. Much of Africa is either too dry or too wet. Africa was, until recently, not densely populated. Since land was available and because more children meant more security and power, a culture evolved that emphasized high fertility, justified by the need for descendants to pacify ancestors. Sub-Saharan (tropical) Africa has the highest birth rates in the world. As an example, Niger, just south of the Sahara desert has a fertility rate of almost eight children per woman while, in the Mediterranean zone, Morocco, just north of the Sahara, but also a Sunni Muslim country, has a rate of only 3.3 children per woman.

Reading assignment:

Caldwell, Pat and John Caldwell. "High Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa." Scientific American (May 1990), pp. 118-125

Boserup, Ester. Woman's Role in Economic Development, pp. 15-52

Van de Walle, Etienne. "Fertility Transition, Conscious Choice and Numeracy." Demography, 29, pp. 490-496

Bledsoe, Caroline, Fatoumatta Banja and Allan Hill. "Reproductive Mishaps and Western Contraception: An African Challenge to Fertility Theory." Population and Development Review, 24, pp. 15-18, 20 and 33-45

Daley, Suzanne. "Screening Girls for Abstinence in South Africa." The New York Times, 17 August 1999

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