Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More education or condoms?

We congratulate Aco and Anna for their new born baby. Now they have officially contributed to the population growth. As a present to the couple, our entry is about demand for children and education (yes – we can’t avoid talking about education again…).

Economic models generally show that, everything else constant, high population growth is bad for economic growth. For some people, high population growth is a reason why poor countries are poor (“the rich gets richer, the poor gets children”). Let’s say this is true. What makes people in poor countries have many children?

According to the demographers’ view, the answer is unmet needs for contraception. Since they are poor, they can’t afford to buy contraceptives. Hence, the appropriate intervention would be family planning campaign.

Many economists reject this idea. Even in poor countries, condoms cost no more than cigarette or coke (Easterly 2001). So, if they want to reduce the number of children, poor people can in fact afford to do so. This means that high birth rate in poor countries are actually desired. The desired fertility argument (Pritchett 1994) is based on the fact that some markets are missing or imperfect: labor, insurance and even goods market. That makes poor families rely on their children for cheap workers and old-age social security.

Only when the income level is higher, people will demand fewer children. Higher level of national income usually correlates with more availability of formal insurance system. Higher income can also be translated to higher level of parents’ education. This will give more opportunity to enter the labor market, so there will be a trade-off between working and childbearing which then lead to a substitution between quantity and quality of children. We can also say that when people are more educated, the effectiveness of contraceptives will also be increased (smarter people knows better how to put condoms or calculate women’s fertile period, eh?).

In short, development is the best contraceptive, said economists. Or, in a narrower version, education is a good, if not the best, contraceptive.

How true is such premise? I am currently doing a research on that.* Using household data from the Demographic and Health Survey, surprisingly, I found that there is no significant correlation between mother’s (as well as father’s) years of education and number of children.** No such correlation also exists between education and ideal number of children.

The data does not allow me to test the impact of education on the labor market participation. But let’s assume it to be positive. The reason must be that education does not explain contraceptive use. And yes, the data confirms that. I did not find any positive and significant impact of education on the probability of using modern contraceptives such as periodic abstinence or birth pills. There is only a marginally significant impact of education on the probability of condoms.

So does that mean that economists or the pro-education camp lost the intellectual battle?

Can’t say that too fast. The thing is the survey was conducted in 2002/03. Three decades after the family planning campaigns by the Indonesian government (BKKBN) has been considered success. Thanks to the campaign, (poor) people have had the knowledge on and access to contraceptives, regardless of their education level. You don’t need to be that smart to know where to buy condoms or pills and how to use them.

Put it more scientifically, we don’t have the counterfactuals. What would have happened if there was no family planning campaign in the ‘70s-80s? Maybe we can ask our colleague Arya Gaduh to conduct a randomized experience to answer such question.


*) The research paper is currently being written. I will post an update if it is available.

**) For the methodology-oriented people, I have corrected the reverse causality and omitted variable bias by applying 2-stage least square estimation, using quarter of birth as the instruments (see Angrist and Krueger 1992).

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  1. interestingly, i found that some educated people don't know when to use condoms. =D

  2. judging from my conversations with poor people in Indonesia, the reason poor people have so many kids is that they - rightly or wrongly - believe that many kids bring them "good luck".

    From an economic viewpoint there is so logic: these kids can look after them when they are old!!!

    Btw, have you read Freakonomics yet? A really great book.

  3. i'm making this comment without any supporting data, but my intuition says that perhaps 'education' in your research is too roughly defined. certain stages of education (degrees from good unis, as opposed to completions of elementary schools), I think, are more substantive and mind-opening.

    one of the reasons why educated people don't have children easily is that because they know how hard it is to secure a good future for their children (this wouldn't be the case, perhaps, if you're highly educated yet also very rich). less educated people, on the contrary, might have lower standards of a good future. they would say something along the lines of: when life is and will always be like that, why bother holding procreation.

    also, certain stages of education offer more opportunities for promising worklives and other activities that would act as contenders to having children.

    anyway, do you have any comparative data from other, perhaps more developed, countries? it would be interesting if it turns out that such pattern also occurs (as you would intuitively expect that more educated people in the US, for exampe, have less children than the ones in the rural areas).

  4. tirta:
    I used 'years of education' and tested both the linear and quadratic rel'ship to see if different years of education has different impact on fertility. none are statistically significant.

    on the comparative data -- I don't have it in my computer. but such data is generally easy to get.

  5. Anecdotal evidence: My grandparents have twelve kids, my parents have five, my sisters have one each. They are all highly educated, even by today's standard.

    I used 'years of education' and tested both the linear and quadratic rel'ship to see if different years of education has different impact on fertility. none are statistically significant.

    They are not statistically significant, but are they large?

    IndCoup: You may like John McMillan's "Reinventing the Bazaar" too. It's not as sexy as Freakonomics, though.

  6. having children is voluntary, things are gonna back to the equilibrium as parents would manage to get more money or income, assumed all parents are rational. even irrational uneducated parents with a bunch of kids might have figured out how to feed their children. if they don't, charity organisations would.

    if we think children as commodity, then demand of children needs to be balanced by the supply. the demand is influenced by something in your heart, and the supply is by something your body. (no way!)

    anyway, have you ever considered that your children are your investment? i hope not.

    i don't know, am i way too much or god must just be crazy?

    anyway, how about the educated homosexuals who wear condoms? they are part of free love economics of marxist, aren't they? they could be rational...

  7. Ap, i guess, two things why we may find no relationship between condom and education.

    First, data is underestimated because sex matter should not be revealed to surveyor :). Second, it's all about taste. A husband tend to be reluctant using condom because of taste :), well i don't know about it as i'm not married yet :D.

    Perhaps, it's better if you put all type of contraception. Otherwise you can test the difference of coeff for each level of education.

    He..he.it's very interesting research.

  8. in the past several years, i've read papers which pointed out that education didn't directly link with the use of contraceptives in more developed countries, say... the uk, but sex education did, both in family planning and/or harm reduction contexts. pardon me i can't recall the authors' names or either be arsed to look up for the references as my comment here is just a spontaneous response. quoting the author of this post, such data (information) can be generally easy to get.

    i know the post written here generally viewed this condom/education issue from the economy perspective, but i personally think that nowadays, economy and education levels cannot be solely used as independent variables on investigating the contraceptive use or other harm reduction-related behaviours. level of education is a much too general factor to be used to derive a conclusion on not-so-easy-to-pull-off behaviours, but still can be applied as a complementing background factor if being correlated to some other direct/focused factors such as sex ed, local gov support, peer influence/pressure, etc. just for an idea, see Ajzen (1988, 1991) for a theory often used in behavioural research, including condom use.

    indigenous might be the word, i reckon.

    as an example, i've been to a workshop where the speaker came from the US to talk about researching hard-to-reach groups such as homeless people, people with HIV/AIDS, street children, and others, and i found out that the research methods being discussed can only be partially applied in England because of the different systems in -to mention a few- health and social services, gov/non-gov approaches used to tackle the issues. we agree that both countries are well developed, don't we? :)

    anyway, this supposed-to-be spontaneous response has elongated. i should stop now and hope that the gist of my comment was delivered successfully.

    have a nice day. 'look forward to reading the research findings :)

  9. ahemm... into the fray with another "such data are generally easy to get", think from what i know it's been shown everywhere that education level (and by extension economic prosperity) go a long way in impacting population growth, which is why many developed countries have population decrease problem these days.

    Maybe smart people simply find other, more interesting things to do other than making babies. Like learning economics for example.

    An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex - Huxley :D

  10. ape, you might want Pak Prijono advice on this. after all, he is (or was?) in charge of BKKBN matters. worst you can get is a reply such as "Maaf tidak bisa berpartisipasi sedang kunjungan ke LN. Salam - PT".