International Fertility Change: New Data and Insights From the Developmental Idealism Framework

Many scholars have offered structural and ideational explanations for the fertility changes occurring around the world. This paper focuses on the influence of developmental idealism—a schema or set of beliefs endorsing development, fertility change, and causal connections between development and fertility. Developmental idealism is argued to be an important force affecting both population policy and the fertility behavior of ordinary people. We present new survey data from ordinary people in six countries—Argentina, China, Egypt, Iran, Nepal, and the United States—about the extent to which developmental idealism is known and believed. We ask individuals if they believe that fertility and development are correlated, that development is a causal force in changing fertility levels, and that fertility declines enhance the standard of living and intergenerational relations. We also ask people about their expectations concerning future trends in fertility in their countries and whether they approve or disapprove of the trends they expect. The data show widespread linkage in the minds of ordinary people between fertility and development. Large fractions of people in these six settings believe that fertility and development are correlated, that development reduces fertility, and that declines in fertility foster development. Many also expect and endorse future declines in fertility.