Social dimensions of fertility behavior and consumption patterns in the Anthropocene

Scott Barrett, Aisha Dasgupta, Partha Dasgupta, W. Neil Adger, John Anderies, Jeroen van den Bergh, Caroline Bledsoe, John Bongaarts, Stephen Carpenter, F. Stuart Chapin, Anne Sophie Crépin, Gretchen Daily, Paul Ehrlich, Carl Folke, Nils Kautsky, Eric F. Lambin, Simon A. Levin, Karl Göran Mäler, Rosamond Naylor, Karine NyborgStephen Polasky, Marten Scheffer, Jason Shogren, Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, Brian Walker, James Wilen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


We consider two aspects of the human enterprise that profoundly affect the global environment: population and consumption. We show that fertility and consumption behavior harbor a class of externalities that have not been much noted in the literature. Both are driven in part by attitudes and preferences that are not egoistic but socially embedded; that is, each household's decisions are influenced by the decisions made by others. In a famous paper, Garrett Hardin [G. Hardin, Science 162, 1243-1248 (1968)] drew attention to overpopulation and concluded that the solution lay in people “abandoning the freedom to breed.” That human attitudes and practices are socially embedded suggests that it is possible for people to reduce their fertility rates and consumption demands without experiencing a loss in wellbeing. We focus on fertility in sub-Saharan Africa and consumption in the rich world and argue that bottom-up social mechanisms rather than top-down government interventions are better placed to bring about those ecologically desirable changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6300-6307
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 24 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Consumption
  • Fertility
  • Socially embedded preferences

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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