Robert Engelman


On his book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want

Cover Interview of March 26, 2009

In a nutshell

More offers a new narrative of the human story that highlights the importance of intentional reproduction—wanting a child, and then having one—in the evolution of civilization and in light of our connections with nature.  The book provides a history of contraception, natural as well as artificial, but also much more.  Through much of our past, population growth has stimulated innovation and human development.  But population growth can also give rise to natural resource scarcities and to hazardous social complexities.  Today these are major threats on a global scale.  Yet population growth could end soon, and for the best of reasons.

What women want, More argues, is more for their children, not so much more children.  Or, put another way, women want what men don’t have to ask for: to be sexually active without inevitably risking pregnancy and childbirth.  Indeed, throughout history, when women have timed their pregnancies to suit their lives and their environment, populations have grown slowly or not at all.  When men control reproduction, by contrast, populations tend to grow unsustainably and sometimes catastrophically.  Population growth itself, and nothing intrinsic in human genes or human nature, may well have produced a world that even today remains dominated by males.

More than any male triumph, it was women’s success in giving (and assisting) birth and parenting third and higher-order children to their own parenting age that guaranteed the human takeover of the planet’s landmasses.  One of the book’s most novel arguments is that midwives began assisting births as soon as bipedalism began.  Midwifery secured this risky evolutionary shift, spurred the development of language, and launched the development of contraception and abortion.  Midwives became expert in both of these—at their own peril, especially during the European witchcraft hysteria.

Based on unambiguous differences between women and men (the former give birth; the latter on average have greater upper-body size and strength), More postulates that population growth explains much of the growing complexity and patriarchy of human social organization.  The book calls for high-quality reproductive health services for all—including a wide variety of contraceptive options for both sexes and safe abortion—as the single most catalytic ingredient in building an environmentally and socially sustainable world.