The learning of population-related norms: some problems for research


Ng, Pedro Pak-tao

TitleThe learning of population-related norms: some problems for research
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateJuly 1975
Keywords:Population research

Family size

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:Norms as principles of behavior are a very important part of what is learned in the socialization process inasmuch as this learning more or less determines the degree to which an individual will cope with his social environment successfully. In the area of population socialization one of the basic endeavors that should be undertaken is the study of the ways in which an individual learns population related norms or norms that have a bearing on the individual's demographic behavior. I have in this brief paper proposed a fourfold classification of population-related norms depending on (a) whether the norm is more directly related to fertility behavior (as one main form of demographic behavior) or more indirectly related, and (b) whether the norm is largely pronatalistic or antinatalistic. This of course is a simplified scheme and is restricted to fertility related norms, but it is intended to facilitate the focus of research on types of population-related norms that may have commonalities in terms of mechanisms and processes in learning. I have also pointed to the need for identifying what norms are learned in different socialization settings. The circumstances in which norms are learned can be deliberate and conscious or non-deliberate and imperceptible. Whatever circumstances they may be, an even more important research problem is the study of the mechanisms responsible for the acceptance of norms on the part of the learner, since unless there is some degree of acceptance of a principle of behavior as valid and desirable the individual lacks the motivation to act accordingly although, at the same time acceptance does not guarantee conformity. Furthermore, since a person's social contacts and experiences vary greatly at different stages in his life cycle, the study of the learning of population-related norms would have to incorporate an investigation of the patterns of norm-learning at different phases of the life cycle. Does the learning progress from the more general to the more specific? What population-related norms are learned in the elementary school years and in the secondary school years? What about college years? What kind of learning takes place after marriage? These and other similar questions all suggest the importance of following the learning process through time - as the individual enters and leaves school, and subsequently other realms of social life - in order to tackle the basic question: Precisely how does population socialization take place?

In comparison with the area of political socialization, the study of population socialization poses certain difficulties. Among these is the task of identifying those topics which are relevant to the learning of population-related beliefs, norms, and attitudes. While the manifestations of political orientation and behavior seem to be fairly numerous and relatively clearly identifiable (see, for example, Almond and Verba, 1965; Easton and Dennis, 1967; and Jennings and Nieme, 1968b), those pertaining to demographic behavior tend to be less so. Also, while there is such a thing as the political institution incorporating, among others, the government and the citizenry, population per se is not a social institution and therefore does not contain entities comparable to political figures, political parties, and elections which constitute rather clear-cut objects for the generation of beliefs, feelings and attitudes. Nevertheless, demographic behavior does occur in the context of social institutions, such as marriage, the family, and even politics, e.g., (population policy), and thus it embodies generalities and standards of what is socially appropriate and desirable for which learning is highly instrumental in bringing about patterns of behavior. Furthermore, on the basis of the interconnectedness of social institutions, the case can be made that much of politically relevant learning (as distinct from specifically political learning) which occurs in various settings has implications for demographic behavior also. Consequently, certain politically relevant norms, such as independence, efficacy, and respect for individual rights, are also to some extent population-relevant norms. In other words, it would not be incorrect to say that a part of a person's political socialization is at the same time a part of his population socialization.

The population-relevant norms as mentioned in my proposed classificatory scheme raise a very substantial issue that needs careful study. How such norms are eventually related to fertility behavior is not totally clear although some theoretical justification can be brought to bear on the possible linkage. Empirical work is necessary to ascertain, for example, the consequences of learning to be independent and efficacious as they relate to the preferences and decisions opted for in family planning. Research of this nature could throw important light on the background factors in the individual’s learning experiences which lead to differentials in demographic behavior.

I have not in this paper explicitly touched on those aspects of population socialization which concern the learning of population-related facts (e.g., population size and growth, social problems related to population, methods of birth control, etc.). These are of course important in forming an individual's "population awareness" which is in fact associated with the learning of population-related norms, especially those that are population-specific. For the individual who is learning about and learning to accept a norm, the notion of what behavior is desirable and appropriate often has to be established on certain facts so that some justification can perhaps be derived for behaving in one way rather than another. Moreover, the learning of norms also involves the generation of feelings (of acceptance or rejection, of like or dislike, etc.) which form the basis for attitudes. Thus, for example, a person's knowledge of the utility of contraceptive methods and his acceptance of a small family size norm together may produce a favorable attitude toward family planning and hence a strong motivation to achieve his desired family size. The study of the learning of population-related norms has therefore a rather central place in understanding population socialization. It is at least a focal point leading to an examination of the whole lot of mechanisms and contexts responsible for determining demographic behavior. Our present knowledge in this area is so limited that much work has yet to be done.
NoteOriginally presented at the conference on Population Socialization held on December 16-21, 1974, at the East-West Center, Honolulu, sponsored by the East-West Population Institute of the East-West Center
Bibliography: l. 18.
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