UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
UNFPA Hosts Meetin~ of Economists Prominent economists from around the world met recently to discuss the macro-level effects of rapid population growth on economic progress in developing countries. The meeting, entitled the "Consultative Meeting of Economists on Population Growth and Economic Development", took place at UNFPA Headquarters in New York from 28 to 29 September 1992. The meeting was part of UNFPA's efforts to increase awareness of population-development interactions, improve policy formulation and contribute to preparations for the upcoming International Conference on Population and Development. Dr. NaGs Sadik, in her opening statement, said that the meeting would "contribute to the International Conference on Population and Development, not only by helping us at UNFPA to better conceptualize population-development links, but also by providing substantive inputs for the preparation of the Conference". Two background documents presented up-to-date summaries on the topic. One paper reviewcd recent economic research on the consequences of population growth. It concluded that recent findings tend to confirm the negative impact of rapid population growth for specific linkages. For example, investments in human resources, through better health, education and opportunities for women, appear to be hindered in situations of high population growth. The food-soil-water relationship is also strongly population-related. Evidence also points to worsening income distribution as a further consequence of rapid growth. On the whole, however, evidence of a strong negative relationship was not incontrovertible. In contrast, the second background paper showed that an ever increasing number of developing countries were concerned about the macroeconomic costs of rapid population growth. It documented several cases of countries which had until recently ignored the population factor in their development plans, but were now issuing clear policy directives aimed at lowering fertility rates. The conspicuous gap between findings from the research community on the macroeconomic consequences of population growth and the perceptions and actions of policy-makers was the main topic of debate. The "agnostic" attitude held by many economists regarding the populationdevelopment relationship was seen as the result of inadequate knowledge, coupled with exaggerated claims by population advocates in the past. The meeting agreed that a more focused research agenda was in order, one that examined specific countries and issues (such as poverty alleviation and infrastructure investment) where population pressures seemed to clearly hinder development efforts. A consensus was reached that action at the micro-level was well justified, without awaiting further macro-level research. These actions include striving to meet the growing need for qualib family planning and reproductive health services and the expansion of educational and other opportunities for women. A report of the meeting will be available shortly from UNFPA.