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Nonstop Population Boom in Bangladesh: What the economic

theories say

Dr. Aminul Islam Akanda*

The Malthusian theory, a well known theory of population studies, states that whenever
human beings obtain more than mere subsistence, their number goes up until everybody is
back at the level of subsistence. World population grew at a very high rate since early 1950s
because of higher level of agricultural productivity during green revolution period. The world
overcame the Malthusian trap of food crisis due to a higher growth rate of food production
than that of population. The population continues to increase as the world is not in a position
to return to its initial level of subsistence. Over population is now a problem in many
countries in the world and the population control has become a serious issue.

Among many factors influencing population growth, dependency on children during crisis
periods is considered as vital. Taking children is considered as a mode of insurance because
parents expect to get financial and non-financial support from their children at their late age.
Taking many children is comparable with modern portfolio theory which suggests
diversification and options to manage risk from many activities. Under limited financial
market without national health insurance and pension schemes, it is difficult to motivate
people to prefer fewer children and to make trade-off between children and alternative
insurance. However, economic incentive has much to do because it can drive people to work
hard, to produce quality products, to study, to invest, and to save.

The incentive theory is effective to achieve potential mutual gains and to prefer one choice by
parties even with different degrees of knowledge. The government of Bangladesh provides
many incentives like highly subsidized contraceptive distribution and extension services to
motivate people towards taking two children at most. Meanwhile, rigorous incentive
measures have halved the growth rate from its highest rate in the 1970s. However, the growth
rate is estimated higher for the last year reported in the Bangladesh Economic Review
indicating a slower progress in population control. The uncontrolled population growth
creates burden greatly on infrastructure (e.g., schools, hospitals, housing, roads) and
resources (e.g., food, water, electricity).
Bangladesh government also provides incentives on education and health-care for children
that include free primary schooling, distribution of free book, food for education, stipend for
female education, free vaccination, free treatment for common diseases, etc. In case of having
children more than two, none is excluded from education and health-care facilities, meaning
that people get incentives to rear as many children as they have. The common incentive for
all children even has negative consequence on population growth as per the theory of
unintended consequences because the incentives reduce the cost of rearing children and thus
encourage people to take more children.

‘One qualified child either boy or girl is sufficient’ and ‘Two children either boy or girl is
sufficient’ are the government slogans for population control in Bangladesh. However,
uncontrolled incentives for child development without caring the number of children in a
family is partially responsible for not taking fewer children. The incentives for population
control even could no longer successfully motivate people towards two children limit.
Moreover, people love to take more children for traditional believes of getting care from
them at late age. Consequently, all the incentives together have paved the way toward a
higher trend of population growth as more children offer more expected benefits and this is
the irony of our situation.

In this context, an effective deterrence against taking more children could be created by anti-
incentive and regulated incentive policies through (i) a cut of incentive on education and
health-care for all children in families with more children, (ii) an elimination of incentive for
additional children in families with more children and (iii) a penalty for additional children.
Implementation of above control measures will be difficult because of improper statistics on
children at family level. The local government, school teachers and local elites could be
incorporated in a regulatory body in the process of executing the policies and controlling the
population in Bangladesh.

* The author is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics, American


International University – Bangladesh, Dhaka.