Population control I: Birth of an ideology
Hartmann B.
Population and Development Program,
Hampshire College,
Amherst, MA 01002, USA.
Int J Health Serv. 1997;27(3):523-40.


Population control, as a major international development strategy, is a relatively recent phenomenon. However, its origins reach back to social currents in the 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in an organized birth control movement in Europe and the United States. The conflicts and contradictions in that movement's history presage many of today's debates over population policy and women's rights. Eugenics had a deep influence on the U.S. birth control movement in the first half of the 20th century. After World War II private agencies and foundations played an important role in legitimizing population control as a way to secure Western control over Third World resources and stem political instability. In the late 1960s the U.S. government became a major funder of population control programs overseas and built multilateral support through establishment of the U.N. Fund for Population Activities. At the 1974 World Population Conference, Third World governments challenged the primacy of population control. While their critique led population agencies to change their strategies, population control remained a central component of international development and national security policies in the United States.

PIP: This article draws largely on the work of Linda Gordon's "Woman's Body, Woman's Right" and of Bonnie Mass's "Population Target" to analyze the history of the birth control movement and trace the elements present in current debate to their origins in the conflicts and contradictions of the movement's history. After noting that humans have attempted to control births since ancient times, the article begins with the efforts of English radical neo-Malthusians to promote birth control and continues by sketching the change in emphasis from poverty reduction to women's rights. By the 20th century in the US, changing views of sexuality and working-class militancy ignited the US birth control movement and inspired the work of Margaret Sanger. After Sanger split with social radicals, professionals and eugenicists began to play a major role in population control efforts. Eugenicists and racists attempted to use birth control for social engineering; it was to be used again as a tool in a new era of social planning after World War II when it metamorphosized into "family planning." The US need for the resources of developing countries led to concerns about population growth fueling nationalistic fires. Thus, private agencies began a postwar population control effort in developing countries. This received official US approval with the 1958 report of the Draper Committee that targeted world population growth as a US security issue. In 1966, Dr. Ravenhold led the US Agency for International Development into the population field. Population control efforts garnered international opposition at the World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974, however, but this had little impact on the strong US commitment to population control.

Eugenics talk
Private eugenics
Personal genomics
Psychiatric genetics
Philosophy on steroids
Human self-domestication
Selecting potential children
Germline genetic engineering
Mood genes and human nature
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis
'The Principle of Procreative Beneficience'
Francis Galton and contemporary eugenics
Gene therapy and performance enhancement
The commercialisation of pre-natal enhancement
Designer baby" changed to French for "double hope baby"


and further reading

BLTC Research
Utopian Surgery?
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World