Does the Baby Bust = a Sustainability Boom?

I knew that more economic development tends to mean smaller families, and I knew that people were having fewer children in many developing countries. But I hadn't grasped how quickly that shift was happening until I read this comparison from last Thursday's issue of The Economist:

The transition from a [birth] rate of five [births per woman] to that of two, which took 130 years to happen in Britain–from 1800 to 1930–took just 20 years–from 1965 to 1985–in South Korea. Mothers in developing countries today can expect to have three children. Their mothers had six. In some countries the speed of decline in the fertility rate has been astonishing. In Iran, it dropped from seven in 1984 to 1.9 in 2006–and to just 1.5 in Tehran. That is about as fast as social change can happen.

But, while it's easy to assume that slowing population growth means a more sustainable future, it's not really as cut and dry as all that. Like The Economist points out: With development, you also get more people living the fossil-fuel heavy American lifestyle. Their argument: The problem of creating a sustainable future isn't really tied to birth rate. That's taking care of itself and couldn't go much faster without China-like impositions on personal freedom. Instead, the focus needs to be on the technology and policies that will help those children grow up in sustainable, energy efficient societies.

The Economist–"Demography, Growth and the Environment", via Follow the Energy blog.