Book Chapter

Agency in population policies

Willekens, F. J.
In: Van Dalen, H., Esveldt, I. (Eds.): Nico van Nimwegen: the resourceful demographer; a liber amicorum, 50–53
The Hague, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (2014)


Throughout history, two opposing approaching to population policies and social policies dominated the debate and the policy measures that resulted. The approaches differ mainly in the belief in human agency, i.e. in the capability to reason and to make independent and responsible decisions. People who believe in that capability endorse other policies than those who do not believe in it. In this paper I illustrate the difference with reference to (a) population growth and (b) migration and population diversity. Malthus and Condorcet had very different beliefs in human agency. Malthus did not believe in the capability of humans to make responsible decisions. Condorcet did. He advocated universal education and predicted smaller families among the educated. Condorcet was vigorously opposed by Malthus, who believed in natural laws controlling behaviour. The debate continues today with Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum and others advocating the capabilities approach, in the spirit of Condorcet. Those who believe in human agency view population diversity as an asset. Others consider it a liability.
Keywords: migration, population growth, population policy
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.