Ford Foundation: Founder of Modern Population Control

By Martin Morse Wooster | July 9, 2004

In this paper, Martin Morse Wooster excavates the roots of population control ideas that took a strong hold in the United States after the second world war.  Specifically, the paper focuses on the pioneering role of the Ford Foundation in championing population control programs in the developing world, dividing Ford Foundation activities into four stages.

Between 1952 and1965, Ford funds helped maintain the Population Council, the Population Research Bureau, and other key population control organizations. From 1965-1974, Ford completed the creation of a population control establishment and ensured that this establishment would be subordinate to the efforts of national and international agencies. As the US government and the United Nations dramatically expanded their population control activities after 1965 — in part in response to the foundation’s recommendations – Ford grants helped underwrite calls for expanding these programs even further.

From 1974-1990, Ford population programs were substantially cut, reflecting the belief in the Ford Foundation’s successes in developing effective contraceptives as well as in convincing national and international agencies to fund their massive distribution throughout the world. This decline also reflects a realization that the ultimate success of population control now rests in convincing women to use contraceptives by the hundreds of millions, and that advocacy towards this end is the most important current mission for Ford. After 1990 Ford has spent slightly more on population control through the funding of international advocacy.  Most importantly, abortion advocacy is now recognized as a central Ford funding priority.

Martin Morse Wooster is an author, contributing editor to Philanthropy, and was a visiting fellow at the Capital Research Center.