Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Washing Machine and Population Growth

The washing machine can sometimes be taken for granted. We take our laundry baskets, put clothes in the machine, and come back an hour later to collect them without even thinking about how much time and effort we are saving. Washing clothes can be an ordeal if it is to be done by hand. It is then that one recognizes how long it would take to wash clothes that are worn on a daily basis. It is inconceivable to many of us that years ago this was the norm. In the past, washing machines were something that people could only dream of.

The link between
washing machines and population growth is an interesting one. There are many who believe that there is a direct link between washing machines and population rates in the first world. Even in the 21st century, we take for granted our washing machines while we enrich our knowledge by perfecting our resumes, learning job skills from our online school programs, or conducting research on Wikipedia. It may seem bizarre, but analysis shows there is a great deal of truth to this argument. Imagine having to constantly wash your own clothes by hand after coming back from work or school. That is a good amount of time and effort spent on washing. After all, washing clothes can be just as tiring and exhausting as working out. When making this connection, however, we must realize that correlation does not mean causation. Having a washing machine doesn't directly increase the amount of children a person will have. Instead, having a washing machine frees up time for a person to become educated and find a well-paying job, which in turn helps them have the resources to prolong their (and their children's) life expectancy. This takes away time and energy from other endeavors, such as reading, writing or pursuing higher education.

People who are constantly having to wash their clothes, or those of their family, are not going to have time to worry about things such as going back to school or increasing their education. They get stuck in the same cycle for years and nothing in their lives ever changes or improves. On the other hand, imagine if these individuals all had access to washing machines. If every single person in a country such as India or Pakistan could have access to a washer and a dryer, their lives would be dramatically altered. This would be a huge change for women in particular. After all, women are the ones who wash and dry clothes in the third world, not men. They are the ones who spend hours cleaning, washing, drying and rinsing. They would be able to relax, think about other things and enjoy their lives. They would also have more time to read and educate themselves.

Studies have shown that education leads to a decrease in population growth. The logic in that argument is easy to follow. When individuals, particularly women, pursue higher education they are less likely to get married at a young age. They will not marry till they graduate college, or possibly complete their Masters. This takes away four to six years of their child bearing age. This means they are less likely to have 5 or 6 kids, as compared to someone who got married at 17 or 18.

Education also focuses individuals on their personal goals. They know they can be independent and make a career that is theirs, not anyone else's. This takes the focus away from marriage, having children, and settling down. This leads to lower population rates. In many ways, the advent of the washing machine is what has driven down population growth in many parts of the first world. Hans Rosling, a prominent economist, has a great
TED talk on this topic if you'd like to see a (funny) visualization of washing machines and population growth.

 Elaine H.