Population Media Center: Find the Truth

Bish, Joe | October 3, 2017 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Still image from the Population Media Center campaign video, Find the Truth

The following essay was adapted from PMC’s annual campaign mini-site.

Every Population Media Center TV and radio show is based on extensive quantitative and qualitative research – after all, we can’t responsibly role model solution-oriented behaviors to problems that we don’t truly understand.

Take, for instance, the 214 million women in the developing world who want to avoid a pregnancy for at least the next two years, but who are not using modern contraception. Many sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates trace this dynamic (usually referred to as an unmet need for contraception) to a “lack of access” to contraception.

However, Population Media Center’s analysis of multiple USAID Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) reports over the last two decades have consistently demonstrated something distinctly different: women with unmet need for contraception rarely cite cost, convenience, or a “lack of access” as the reason they are not using contraception. Rather, the major impediments to behavior change – contraceptive uptake – are rooted in apprehension, fear-inducing rumors, or personal antagonism towards contraception, often grounded in religiosity, fatalism, or patriarchal social norms.

Increasingly, new analysis are pointing to similar conclusions. In June 2016, for example, Guttmacher Institute scrupulously analyzed a decade’s worth of data related to reasons for non-use in 52 developing countries. Guttmacher found non-users who actually “lack access” measure out to only around 5 percent. Meanwhile, fear of health effects and personal or spousal opposition to contraception account for 49 percent of non-use. In other words, non-use of contraception related to informational and socio-cultural barriers out-numbered non-use related to a lack of access by a factor of 10.

To be absolutely clear, PMC strongly believes that supply chains and market availability of contraceptives need continual improvement. But, these aspects of contraceptive prevalence are not currently the primary areas needing investments. As Guttmacher states, “…family planning programs have existed for some time in most of the developing world, sources of supplies have expanded, and methods are offered at low cost or free of charge in public-sector health services. [Our] findings do not necessarily show that access-related problems have been resolved, but suggest that women perceive other reasons for nonuse to be more important.” Spousal opposition to family planning, for example, is one substantive social challenge facing women in many areas PMC works.

PMC believes that the most acute need in global family planning programs today are interventions that can challenge long-established and widely practiced social norms – while cost-effectively correcting misinformation, myths, and rumors around family planning. However, because social norms are, by definition, resistant to change – and because socially trafficked rumors and falsehoods wield enormous influence over individuals and families – standard service provision or direct messaging campaigns such as door-to-door counseling, billboards, or PSAs are unlikely to succeed, and may even further entrench the behavior in question.

Instead, PMC leverages social and behavior change science to engage people with theory-based entertainment programs. Our shows are always built upon a foundation of comprehensive formative research. That is the only way to “Find the Truth” and role-model realistic attitudinal and behavioral alternatives – such as male understanding and acceptance of the health benefits of family planning for their wives and their children.

The following essay was adapted from PMC’s annual campaign mini-site.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

MAHB Blog: https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/find-truth-pmc/

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Greeley Miklashek

    Every mammal has built-in population limits: “misery and vice” were Malthus words, although he noted famine, war, and disease as well. Darwin mentions these same “limits to increase”. However, most mammals, including humans, have an additional internal neuro-endocrine system that controls unsustainable overpopulation. I call this “population density stress” and have described it at length in “Stress R Us”, available as a free PDF in the MAHB library. In fact, as a lifelong practicing physician, I determined that ALL of my patient’s “diseases of civilization” were the direct or indirect result of population density stress. It’s all explained in the e-book. Hagai Levine published a paper recently documenting a 50-60% decrease in sperm counts among Western men in the past 43 years, and we have had a 100% increase in infertility in the past 34 years! If we shut down emigration from overpopulated countries, as painful as that may be for all involved, nature will limit those populations due to crowding and population density stress, including premature infant death, which we all hate to see. One-child families are the only solution and will bring our world-wide populations back down to sustainable 1950 levels of 2.5 billion by 2,100. The alternative is to watch our children and grandchildren lining up for expensive infertility procedures in an increasingly unsustainable and ever sicker world. It’s our choice and moralizing about this issue is a waste of time. Face the scientific facts and choose wisely for the life or death for our species.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men {and women}.” — George Kennan

    Clarion Call for Changing the Global Food Narrative……
    Human overpopulation is the proverbial “Mother” of all human-driven global challenges to future human well being and environmental health. We must widely share and consensually validate the best available science regarding WHY absolute global human population numbers during my lifetime exploded at the rate of 80+/- million people per year and by 5+/- billion people in the past 70+/- years. How are we to address and overcome a problem of this magnitude if we fail to acknowledge and accept its actual root cause?




  • Jason G. Brent

    Humanity cannot and must not gamble its survival or gamble the collapse of civilization on the ability to change the culture and all the reasons people fail to use birth control in time to prevent population growth from causing disaster. According to the UN’s latest numbers-medium variation-population is expected to reach 11.2 billion in 2100. That projection takes into account the fact that a number of nations presently have below replacement fertility and the fact that additional nations will reach below replacement level in the near future. No one and no group has attempted to determine the chance that voluntary population control will failand without that determination, to gamble the collapse of civilization on voluntary population is an act of supreme arrogance. Every human right, except the right to have an excess number of children thereby causing the collapse of civilization, is in some manner controlled by society when the exercise of that right harms someone else. There is not a single reason why the right to have an excess number of children should not be controlled by society. Jason G. Brent jbrent6179@aol.com

  • Jim Boyer

    Where are all the males in the equation? Can the men simply pass it on to the women’s responsiblity to control birth while they continue their sexual fantasies? And why are women not accompanied by men at these clinics. Obviously, ‘marriage’ and ‘relationships’ hold a second or lower position in the male order, world wide not at any specific ethnic group. When the increasing population sets off an issue like this then the clear position of human existence is not about humanity and the spirit but filler for house/farm work, dowry and male ego. The same in the US, China, Europe, children are an asset not a responsibility.

  • Richard Grossman

    I recently returned from Northern Ghana where I was doing a study that has nothing to do with family planning, but I saw and examined over a hundred pregnant women (I’m am an OB-GYN). Their parity (number of children that they had already given birth to) was, overall, considerably higher than that of women in the USA, and probably higher than the average for Ghana–4.0. This region has been studied extensively and the finding is that the total fertility rate is high despite the availability of modern contraception. There are probably two reasons for this: the relatively high child mortality rate and the expectation of large family size. I think that the Population Media Center does a wonderful job of dealing with the latter!

    • Rob Harding

      Agreed. Thank you, Richard, for your continued efforts.