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Working Paper

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Worldwide in the 1990s over one billion persons are estimated to have a purchasing power of below a dollar per day, the conventional demarcation of “absolute poverty.” Other dimensions of poverty, extending beyond income measures to encompass a person’s broader capabilities and social functioning, are less empirically accessible. Poverty is commonly thought to be associated with high fertility and rapid population growth (regionally, South Asia and Africa have the highest poverty rates), but that view finds little support in the extensive statistical research literature on population and poverty. However, a clear-cut depiction of such an institutionally contingent relationship is not to be expected. Economy-wide effects of population change on poverty can be traced through direct changes in distributional outcomes and through effects resulting from changes in rural and urban environments and social organization. The indirect links are complicated by problems of characterizing the urban informal sector and by the relocation of poverty through migration (and its recomposition through economic mobility). Analytical difficulties arise in stipulating ceteris paribus conditions against which to assess demographic influences. Stylized models can show how certain patterns of social structure and economic transfers in a society sustain resilient “equilibrium trap” situations that generate adverse demographic and poverty outcomes. Although neither fertility nor poverty is usefully regarded as a policy instrument, there are policy measures that impinge on both. The familiar examples of these are programs in education, health, and family planning. Policies in the economic and political domain may be as or more important. The developmentalist strategies behind many of the strongest economic growth performances of recent decades, albeit contentious on some other grounds, have been associated with poverty alleviation and fertility decline.