The Overpopulation Frenzy and American Fertility

Changes in Domestic Population Policy and American Reproductive Behavior in the 1960s The sexual revolution of the 1960s did more than endogenously change the costs of sexual activity through the advent of normalized contraceptive use; it initiated the shift in how Americans think about reproduction. The new calculus of reproduction precipitated modernity’s unique demographic phenomenon: prosperous societies that are failing to replace themselves. America’s transition to below-replacement fertility was ultimately dominated by plummeting numbers in desired family size, but this shift came not only from changing views on sexuality, but also from an emerging overpopulation scare.  While the bulk of fertility decline was precipitated by smaller desired family size, the battle for lower fertility was not a victimless fight. The population scare of the 1960’s promulgated the idea that the public had a legitimate interest in each woman’s reproduction. The overpopulation scare emerged in a period fraught with racial tension, and women’s fertility became a battlefront of the racial conflict of the 1960’s.  The World Population in the Sixties The world was changing rapidly in the 1950s. In the beginning of the decade, the world contained 2.5 billion souls. Anyone who was 50 years old in the 1950s had grown up in a world with a population of 1.6 billion, and their great-grandparents in a world with fewer than one billion Between the decade of 1950 and 1960, the global under-five mortality rate fell from 214 to 180 deaths per 1,000 births. The momentum continued through the next decade, when the under-five mortality rate fell by 19%.[1] Consequently, the average world life expectancy rose rapidly, and the world population boomed. The 50-year olds who remembered when the world population comprised only 1.6 billion persons saw it add a net increase of 47 million persons per year throughout the entire decade of the 1950’s.[2] The economic
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