Population Research and Policy Review 19: 421–457, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Social change, population policies, and fertility decline
in Colombia and Venezuela
EMILIO A. PARRADO
Department of Sociology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Abstract. This paper takes a comparative case-study approach to examine the social and
policy correlates of fertility decline. The analysis compares fertility behavior across a mature
and young cohort of women in Colombia and Venezuela, two countries that experienced rapid
demographic change under dissimilar socioeconomic and population policy conditions. Based
on the distinction between birth-spacing and birth-stopping behavior the analysis tests sev-
eral propositions derived from the adaptation and innovation explanations of fertility decline.
Results show that fertility regulation at low parities was largely absent among mature women
in both countries, representing an innovative behavior among younger women. The introduc-
tion of fertility control, however, was highly dependent on women’s socioeconomic position,
particularly their educational and occupational characteristics. The strong family planning
programs in Colombia resulted in a more rapid extension of contraceptive use, particularly
female sterilization, and stopping behavior after two children relative to Venezuela. Results
highlight the diversity of conditions under which fertility can decline in developing coun-
tries and the importance of family planning and other policy initiatives to understanding the
different pathways towards lower fertility.
Keywords: Fertility, Latin America, Family planning, Development
Researchers have long sought to assess the primary mechanisms behind fer-
tility decline in developing countries. Yet considerable controversy remains
as to the relative role of socioeconomic, cultural, and policy forces in spur-
ring demographic change. On the one hand, proponents of the innovation
perspective regard fertility control as a new behavior that diffuses along
socioeconomic, cultural, linguistic, or ethnic lines. According to this per-
spective, demographic transition brings about a general rationalization of
childbearing that generates a reduction in the desired number of children
that diffuses in a manner at least partially independent of socioeconomic
change (Knodel & van de Walle 1979; Bongaarts & Watkins 1996). On the
other hand, proponents of the adaptation perspective view fertility decline as
the result of couples’ responses to changing social and economic conditions.
According to this perspective, factors such as urbanization, industrialization,