Social dimensions of fertility behavior and consumption patterns in the Anthropocene

Scott Barrett, Aisha Dasgupta, ParthaDasgupta, William Neil Adger, John M. Anderies, Jeroen van den Bergh, BledsoeCaroline, John Bongaarts, Stephen Carpenter, F. Stuart Chapin, Anne-Sophie Crépin, Gretchen Daily, Paul Ehrlich, Carl Folke, Nils Kautsky, Eric F. Lambin, Simon A. Levin, Karl-Göran Mäler, Rosamond Naylor, Karine Nyborg, Stephen Polasky, Marten Scheffer, Jason Shogren, Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, Brian Walker and James Wilen.

Front page of journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, March 2020, Volume 117

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We consider two aspects of the human enterprise that profoundly affect the global environment: population and consumption. We show that fertility and consumption behavior harbor a class of externalities that have not been much noted in the literature. Both are driven in part by attitudes and preferences that are not egoistic but socially embedded; that is, each household’s decisions are influenced by the decisions made by others. In a famous paper, Garrett Hardin [G. Hardin, Science 162, 1243–1248 (1968)] drew attention to overpopulation and concluded that the solution lay in people “abandoning the freedom to breed.” That human attitudes and practices are socially embedded suggests that it is possible for people to reduce their fertility rates and consumption demands without experiencing a loss in wellbeing. We focus on fertility in sub-Saharan Africa and consumption in the rich world and argue that bottom-up social mechanisms rather than top-down government interventions are better placed to bring about those ecologically desirable changes.

Published May 19, 2020 2:53 PM - Last modified Nov. 17, 2020 12:44 PM