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More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want

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In the capital of Ghana, a teenager nicknamed “Condom Sister” trolls the streets to educate other young people about contraception. Her work and her own aspirations point to a remarkable shift not only in the West African nation, where just a few decades ago women had nearly seven children on average, but around the globe. While world population continues to grow, family size keeps dropping in countries as diverse as Switzerland and South Africa.

The phenomenon has some lamenting the imminent extinction of humanity, while others warn that our numbers will soon outgrow the planet’s resources. Robert Engelman offers a decidedly different vision—one that celebrates women’s widespread desire for smaller families. Mothers aren’t seeking more children, he argues, but more for their children. If they’re able to realize their intentions, we just might suffer less climate change, hunger, and disease, not to mention sky-high housing costs and infuriating traffic jams.

In More, Engelman shows that this three-way dance between population, women’s autonomy, and the natural world is as old as humanity itself. He traces pivotal developments in our history that set population—and society—on its current trajectory, from hominids’ first steps on two feet to the persecution of “witches” in Europe to the creation of modern contraception. Both personal and sweeping, More explores how population growth has shaped modern civilization—and humanity as we know it.

The result is a mind-stretching exploration of parenthood, sex, and culture through the ages. Yet for all its fascinating historical detail, More is primarily about the choices we face today. Whether society supports women to have children when and only when they choose to will not only shape their lives, but the world all our children will inherit.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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Displaying 1 - 21 of 21 reviews
Profile Image for Heather.
Author 11 books54 followers
November 5, 2010
I was super dissapointed in this book. I'd heard the last half of an interview with the author on NPR months ago and was intrigued by his point that when women have control over their sexuality and bodies then populations naturally take on a healthy and sustainable growth rate. I thought that he was advocating for better gender relations-- increased communication and respect between husbands and wives, less domestic violence and rape, and increased support and resources for mothers and children. NOPE, his ONLY idea of giving women control is more abortion, sterilization, and contraceptives. I don't think we see quite eye to eye on this one at all. I realized that his mentality is the prevailing one in the international development world-- that women just need to have access to abortion and birth control and all their problems will be solved. How dare they have bodies that betray them by becoming pregnant and get in the way of doing real work? That burden them down with children? I think I see things much differently that women need to have an infrastructure that respects the mothering work they do as women, one that values the life giving power of their bodies, one that allows them real choice is how and when they use their sexuality, and where men love and respect them and are willing to take responsibility for the children they sire. Those were the things I was hoping this book was about. It wasn't. So frustrating.
Profile Image for Clare O'Beara.
Author 21 books335 followers
February 27, 2017
This book studies our population growth and ways that women manage children. I didn't initially realise that the demography study incorporates a good look at our prehistory. There is a huge amount of concentrated knowledge in this book and I just am giving a flavour of it. I found the tone entirely respectful of women through history. I would have liked more visits to villages and individual stories to be related.

We're told that the rate of human population growth has slowed - the most astonishing turnaround in our history. While tragedies have decimated population in the past, such as the Black Death, Spanish Flu or smallpox, overall humanity has kept having large numbers of babies. Births are looked at per woman, not per couple, as the author sensibly points out that men may not remain in a stable couple family. In Niger, one of the world's poorest countries in the near Saharan scrub, women still have seven children on average. In other developing countries however, the average family size is three children. This is way down from the six or more children which used to be inflicted on every mother. Not all babies survive, not all children survive, and frequently giving birth means that not all mothers survive. The author states that allowing women to choose how early, how often and how many is what has achieved this remarkable turnaround.

Reproducing and safely raising the children is what has led our species to survive. But now that we have so many people, crowded into shrinking home sizes on ever more expensive land, drinking too little water and rioting over too expensive food, migrating and working for ever reducing wages, while polluting the lands, sea, rivers and air, we have to look at getting the population stable or reduced in order to survive. Modern tragedies include the earthquake / tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people in South Asia; two days later more people had been born than had died.

We're told that the shift of the pelvic bones in hominids starting to walk upright, led to changes in birthing, and assistance would have been needed, especially as infants' heads became bigger. So the midwife originated, and co-operative child rearing. Women rather than men developed new skills and tools to help rear the family. We then get anthropology details about early clans, genetic survival and population spread. Cooking food allowed women to gain more energy so their bodies were able to grow to a similar size as men's bodies. I enjoyed this look at how women, having lost the body fur that infants could cling to, had to make slings to carry babies around, before migrating out of Africa. Research at University of Wisconsin found that women carrying a 'child' in their arms expended 16% more energy than one carrying it in a sling, as well as losing the use of that arm. Aggressive men might scare away others, but women don't generally like being bossed around by aggressive men, preferring a good provider who is adaptable and will keep them safe if need be. Aggressive men tend to get killed off - by other men or by taking risks. Overcrowding and scarcity of resources has been the cause of tribal aggression through history.

Mentioning Neanderthals, the author states that there is only suggestion of interbreeding with humans - this has since been overturned by gene decoding to reveal that humans have some Neanderthal DNA. Human women could have been early gardeners as well as gatherers, just by protecting favoured plants or dropping seeds from food they picked and transported. This could have given us the edge in times of poor meat supply. By contrast the Neanderthals depended on large prey and competed with us for that food. I enjoyed the midden studies, proving that in the Mediterranean region people arrived and ate tortoises until they ran out, whereupon they switched to hares.

In early farming, we learn about 'progress traps' in which intensive farming and irrigations raised the salt content of the ground in Sumeria and made the land unsuitable for first wheat, then barley, so the society which had developed around the grain dwindled. Jared Diamond has shown that most past societies have collapsed within a few decades of reaching a population tipping point. Sadly from time to time the focus is on almost obligatory infanticide, from Rome to Japan, as mothers just cannot support children. We also see herbal contraception and abortion being used through history.

A hundred pages in, the author brings us back to the initial topic of a charity that supports women in developing countries to have choice in their reproduction. He went to a West African village and the women wanted to know, where were the contraceptive options they'd heard about two years previously? They were tired of 'one baby in front and one on the back'. Some called it rest medicine, giving them a rest between pregnancies. Traditional, ancient contraceptives are examined. He also spoke to a Muslim woman aged 16 who had two babies already. She at first gave traditional answers about wanting many babies, then said she wished she could have started having babies later, and would like a longer rest between them. She was too poor to cope.

Then we meet religion. Male dominated aggressive societies took power and although too many children was the reason protein was now too valuable to sacrifice - women were suppressed, owned and made to have more children, boys preferred. More farm hands, more soldiers. Crowd disease, called plagues, and famine checked population growth. Today, we are told that in sub-Saharan Africa a three-month injection is the preferred contraceptive, because it can be kept secret from the husband. Catholicism dictated fertility matters, forbidding contraception while imprisoning unmarried women and their children as slave labour even in twentieth century Ireland. The opinions of women were never sought down the centuries, misogeny swelling instead. The political means to control the population - and thus channel wealth - were to the fore. An example is given of an Ardennes abbey where the order was given to forbid any contraception among the populace, at confession; the numbers around grew to the point of food scarcity.

Following the famines and Black Death of 14th century Europe, the status of women improved. Wages were higher with fewer workers, while women ran businesses and were craftworkers. At a time when the Pope had fathered seven children, witches who stopped conception were the new enemy. Harvard statistician Emily Oster noted that when climate was favourable and population growth thus high, there were few witchcraft trials. The first demographer was John Gaunt, a 17th century London haberdasher who liked figures and worked on the tables of births and deaths. Carolus Linnaeus is next, who named many species and called us mammals. Following WW2 we see that falling death rates, rather than change in birth rates, caused a baby boom. Japan's opposing fertility decline freed up money to be used to develop industry.

Women around the world, the author notes, do not generally visit family planning clinics to stop global overpopulation. They want to choose when to have babies, and to have healthy babies and safe births. A young woman called the 'condom sister' goes around talking to teenagers in her own town, explaining the advantages of early controls. Delaying starting a family means one generation less per century. It means fewer reproductive years per woman, when she has matured enough herself. It then means a lower family size, better feeding and reduced child mortality. HIV and sexual violence are other big issues. We also live longer than ever in our history. The author says that if fertility rates had not fallen from 1970 on, we would now have 8.5 billion people on the planet. (Most of his statistics come from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.) With landfills, rice paddies and food animals all producing ever more methane, our atmosphere will keep heating. Let's keep supporting the right of women to control their fertility and have healthy children. This is a dense and well presented book, full of food for thought.
Profile Image for Joy.
1,160 reviews18 followers
November 21, 2010
Any man who writes a book with "what women want" in the title opens himself to mockery, but Engelman's conclusion is close enough to the Wife of Bath's that he can almost be forgiven it.

Taking a Malthusian view of population increase, Engelman notes that the "natural" curbs on population growth outpacing sustainability are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine, War, and Pestilence (Death, as Engelman notes, is just the body-collector for the other 3). However, Engelman sees a better way: given access to a complete portfolio of family planning services, women (on average) tend to choose a sustainable population level. Not men. No doubt this is because typical women's reproductive agendas (fewer children, higerh level of investment) is more adaptive to a crowded planet than the typical man's. However it is a more empowering philosophy than trying to force population control through government.

Included in this book is a history of demographics, a history of family planning, and Engelman's interesting reading of some Biblical stories through the eyes of his own concerns. And the interesting fact that George H.W. Bush used to be such a proponent of family planning that he got the nickname "Rubbers" before he sold out to the Reaganites.
Profile Image for Nday Nday.
Author 1 book1 follower
November 22, 2015
A book with vital topic of recent issue and its correlation with women life. Very interesting since the beginning when the writer described marvelously about why we should care more about population growth and why women have such an important roles in making this world sustainable. Mr. Engelman make this book chronologically flow from the evolution of a human being to the manner of people toward contraception and birth-control. It's easy to be understood at first, though it's getting more and more thought-provoking in the end. After all, this book will open up our horizon about the urgency of having as fewer family member as we can. In the time when population increase but the land decreased, this book will provide us something to think about, for our future.
Profile Image for Kelly Coyle DiNorcia.
49 reviews2 followers
June 12, 2009
This was a very compelling and thought-provoking look at population and the role of women's rights in achieving a sustainable number of human beings on this planet. A refreshing change from the usual gloom-and-doom overpopulation books, this one actually has some answers as to what can be done.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
166 reviews7 followers
August 9, 2011
an intelligent review of human history from a woman's reproductive purview. i enjoyed his attribution of valuable human innovations to women, not men. he's got great recommendations on how to change the discourse of population discussions to avoid controversy.
5 reviews3 followers
October 23, 2009
Thought provoking book discussing reproductive health, women's rights, climate change, evolution.
80 reviews
March 10, 2023
More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, is an explanation of the history and prehistory of human population growth. Robert Engelman believes that human population growth is a problem. He also believes that the problem has a solution, one that by happy coincidence is consistent with his political values.

Full disclosure: Robert Engelman is my brother.

During most of human evolution the population of our ancestors was in harmony with the means to sustain that population. For about a million years humans hunted large, slow moving animals. These were dangerous to hunt, but they could be hunted using primitive weapons and methods. When their population declined, the human population declined too. With the invention of more advanced weapons and the nurturing of wild plant foods the human population grew as the large slow moving animals were hunted to extinction.

The development of agriculture accelerated, "the cycle of growth, scarcity, innovation, and more growth," and eventually more scarcity.

Technological advances have increased the carrying capacity of the earth, but the process has been neither inevitable nor benign. Animal species have become extinct. Periodic famines have happened when there were too many people per square mile. Technological advances have harmed those who were not able to learn them.

Fortunately, most women would rather raise a few children well than many poorly. When birth control and abortion become legal, easily available, and inexpensive, birth rates decline.

In other words, Engelman assures us that we do not have to choose between China's coercive one child only policy and famine, war, and disease. All we need to do is to promote policies that increase the education and status of women.

Engelman should have rebutted the two most popular arguments of those who are pro population growth: an aging population needs more young people to support them; non whites have high birth rates, so whites of European descent need to have lots of kids to avoid race displacement.

Also, he should have connected population growth to the Great Recession. More people mean that there is less of everything good to go around.

From the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the recessionary recession of 1974 the population of the United States grew. So did the median income adjusted for inflation.
Nevertheless, population growth should be seen as a factor that reduces the standard of living to what it would have been without population growth. The relationship can be expressed with an equation:
(natural resources x level of technology) / population = average standard of living

Also, more people – from a high birth rate, a high rate of immigration, or both – mean more job applicants and more consumers – especially for a place to live. This deflates incomes, inflates prices, and raises profits. The growing U.S. population is a major reason for the growing income gap.

The argument that we need more young people to care for the old people can be answered by the example of Japan. According to the CIA Worldbook, Japan has a very low immigration rate. The population of Japan is slowly declining. Japan has the second highest life expectancy in the world. No one says that elderly people in Japan are poorly cared for.


Engelman is correct that the growing human population is an existential threat that exacerbates the existential threat of climate change.

Unfortunately, for most Americans population control is not a fun issue. Conservatives oppose abortion, dislike birth control, and like large families. They like a married couple with five children; the father works; the mother stays home with the children. Liberals also have concerns that conflict with zero population growth.

These various concerns do not deflect from Engelman’s message: human population growth is a serious problem; it can be reduced by giving women access to means of controlling their pregnancies.
Profile Image for Miranda.
33 reviews
July 23, 2008
I liked the environment/population/gender equity themes he explored, but it felt a little brief (probably because he's targeting a general audience). Left me curious to see the depth of his research. You can also see which direction he's coming from. Interesting to contrast his slant with Fatal Misconception (which was probably detailed to a fault for a general audience). The truth probably lies somewhere between the two. I HATED his little pop culture references - it really dumbed down the ideas (which dropped my rating). I do like his optimism at the end, though!
Profile Image for Kristin Lee Williams.
298 reviews3 followers
June 30, 2008
Overall this was a bit of a bore to read. I plodded through it because a lot of the information was interesting. Still, the writing style was really boring and it was filled with all kinds of side comments that weren't really applicable. I learned a lot and I am really fascinated by the concept of fertility and fertility control as world changing and women as those with the most power over those things. Still, I think it could have been a better book if it was written by someone more interesting!
Profile Image for Pamela.
Author 16 books42 followers
May 27, 2009
Population issues tend to be ignored in environmental discussions, as if it's somehow impolite to point that, er, over six billion people might be kinda hard on Mother Earth. "More" is a very lucid and readable discussion of population issues with a very simple message: if women are allowed to have no more children than they actually want, populations tend to reach replacement level (or close to it). Engleman's review of women's control of their own fertility covers the entire scope of human history, not just the last fifty years, which makes this a particularly enlightening book.
Profile Image for Maggie Hesseling.
1,350 reviews12 followers
January 17, 2014
An engrossing and interesting text regarding the issue of overpopulation. As most women I was sceptical regarding the subtitle. However, though not completely worked out the way I would have liked, Engelman does bring up some of the core issues that women still struggle with: the right to their own body, and her ability to have children (especially regarding the number of them). Though Engelman did get off point a couple times, I found the main thoughts brought forth here very interesting and well structured.
Profile Image for Xine.
24 reviews3 followers
November 9, 2009
I admit I was leery about a book that could tell me what women want. Women, see, are such a diverse population. Why, i don't think there's anything that women all want.

Well, Mr. Engleman respectfully proved me wrong, and he did it elegantly, with meticulous research, and he even told me what women want right there in the title.

Women want control over our entire bodies, including control over the dicisions o' how many children we will have.

Profile Image for Katie.
217 reviews74 followers
April 2, 2009
Wow! I can't remember the last time I was so fascinated by a book. A wonderful history of human population, family planning, the formation and growth of modern societies, the role of women in controlling their own fertility...the list goes on. I really enjoyed this book, and learned far more than I anticipated!
Profile Image for KatherineJ Barrett.
36 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2009
This was sent to me for review. I'm not sure I would have bought it myself, but thoroughly enjoyed it. Engelman is an engaging writer, even when writing about something potentially boring, like demographics.
117 reviews2 followers
April 30, 2010
This book had a tendency to get off point, but it was an effective plea for women having control of their fertility. Not only do women have healthier, happier children, but population comes under control. It was an interesting look at these two issues - environmental and women's health.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
41 reviews
June 15, 2008
Fascinating stuff. The historical and analytical elements are informative and convincing, and it's very thoroughly researched. Some of the attempts at humor fall flat, but overall, worth the read.
1 review1 follower
August 13, 2008
Fascinating look at human evolution, population growth, and women's autonomy. Truly original ideas.
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