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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: December 2009

9 - New Perspectives on the Demographic Transition


Since 1900, a revolution has occurred in human childbearing. Today, throughout much of the world, parents deliberately limit their fertility, and the average number of births per woman over the reproductive career is approaching two or less. Before then, and throughout most of human history, parents typically did nothing intentionally to restrict fertility, and women averaged six births or more. What has brought about this remarkable change in human reproduction?

To answer this, I use the theory developed in Chapter 8 to analyze here two high-quality and fairly comparable surveys of fertility and family planning that bridge the early stage of the shift to deliberate control of fertility in a less-developed area. These surveys were conducted in the Indian State of Karnataka in 1951 and 1975 (Reddy and Raju 1977; Srinivasan, Reddy, and Raju 1978; United Nations 1961). Rarely have the economic and demographic circumstances of a pretransition population been professionally surveyed so thoroughly as that of Karnataka in 1951, which was then known as Mysore State. Karnataka's population then was about 9 million, which was larger than that of Australia. In rural areas, which accounted for three-fourths of the state's population, over two-thirds of males were illiterate and nine-tenths of females. The rural population was spread over some 8,000 villages, most of which had less than 500 persons, and was engaged very largely in cultivating rice, which accounted for more than three-quarters of the cropland in use.

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