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Post-2015 Consensus: Population and Demography Viewpoint, Herrmann

Viewpoint Paper

Herrmann notes the two overarching messages emerging from the global consultation on this issue: that demography matters for sustainable development and that demography is not destiny; it can be shaped by policies. He is, however, critical of the reliance on benefit-cost analysis in setting priorities, preferring to focus on human rights and the dynamics of development. After all, if the decision had been based on costs and benefits, it is doubtful that countries would have abandoned slavery.

The problem is that policy changes do not need to have a negative effect on the economy as a whole, but will alter the distribution of costs and benefits between individual actors. A benefit-cost analysis is necessarily incomplete and makes it impossible to draw conclusions about the general impact. Neither can it evaluate non-material benefits or moral gains. In particular, it is difficult to quantify the benefits of stronger human rights.

Targets such as reducing fertility levels could legitimize coercive population controls that violate human rights, and it seems more reasonable to focus instead on the determinants of demographic change. Herrmann proposes that demographic trends should be shaped through their determinants (health, education, empowerment, employment and social protection) and through planning for changes which will unfold. Nevertheless, he agrees that goals proposed by Kohler and Behrman, such as reductions in child and infant mortality, universal access to SRH information and services and elimination of child marriage are critically important.

Any target with respect to human development should be informed by the projected changes in the size, location and age structure of population; the post-2015 development agenda should include concrete and stand-alone targets on collection, analysis and use of population data and projections.