France’s newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, when asked in a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg why there was no Marshall plan for Africa, explained that Africa had “civilisational” problems. He added that part of the challenge facing the continent was the countries that “still have seven to eight children per woman”.
The condemnation online was swift and relentless. The US political scientist Laura Seay summarised the problem many had with Macron’s words in a series of tweets: “It is RICH for a French president to criticise Africa this way,” she said. “France’s colonial theory was called the ‘mission civilisatrice’, which purported to bring all the benefits of Frenchness to the continent. Part of the ‘mission’ was the institutionalisation of Catholicism as the official religion of French colonial territories in Africa.”
“We see all kinds of effects of the ‘mission civilisatrice’ in Francophone Africa today,” she continued, “like the church’s teaching against contraceptive use, which most African adherents take very seriously. Do women in Francophone Africa want to give birth to far more children than they can reasonably feed, clothe, and educate? I doubt most do.”
Actually, absolutely every piece of work on fertility insists that desired fertility is the driving force. Contraception does indeed matter but it’s still a secondary matter.
The basic aim of an animal, and we humans are indeed such, is the production of grandchildren. Behaviour tends (for perhaps no other reason that we’re all descended from those who did so) to that which will maximise the likelihood of such, up to a certain point. That is, we don’t all have 8 children today because we don’t need to in order to have a 95 to 100% chance of having grandchildren. But the human condition was for millennia after millennia that 8 live births, perhaps 12 or 14 pregnancies, was required per woman in order to gain that sort of chance.
There are still parts of the world where this is true today. Thankfully, many fewer.
Absolutely every time anyone goes out and studies this we get the same results. Yep, sure, there are people who would like access to contraception. And, at the margin, it makes a difference. But not all that much of one. Because people aren’t, however poor, stupid. They know sex causes children, they know when sex causes kids too. Contraception allows more sex without children, most certainly, but if fertility limitation is what people really want to do then fertility gets limited. Worth noting that the first great falls in fertility were long before the invention of reliable artificial contraception (19th century France wasn’t it?).
How much contraception changes things is indeed argued over. Some say only 10% of fertility change comes from its general availability. Some say more. But it is still very definitely changes in desired fertility that drives the process.
Why are dirt poor women in sub-Saharan Africa having 8 kids? Because they want grandchildren and that’s what has historically been necessary to gain them. This will change a generation after people realise – which they will with better food supplies, vaccination and so on, that process we call getting rich – that 3 or 4 then 2 will still achieve that goal.
As with other animals in a state of nature the female of the human species spends adulthood pregnant or nursing. Once that state of nature, with its appalling death toll, is removed, then once descent is assured we all go off and do more interesting things. Including the contraception to still have the sex.
As to the Catholicism, animist, Muslim, populations subject to the same economic circumstances have just as many children…….