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<p>MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images</p>


Part of the greatest demographic change in recorded history. China’s population has stopped growing, and is about to shrink quickly.

What Happens When Half The World Stops Making Babies

We are now in the middle of perhaps the greatest demographic change in recorded history.

On October 31, 2011, the United Nations held an unaccountably cheery media event at its New York headquarters, to mark the occasion of the world’s population passing seven billion.

It was a statistically questionable exercise, for it acknowledged that no one could be sure of the planet’s exact population on any given day. The UN called it “symbolic”.

The question is why, if they were going to celebrate any major demographic development with such faux-certainty, did the powers that be at the UN not make it the really important one, the one which gives some hope for this overcrowded planet.

I mean this one: half the population of the world now lives in countries where those of childbearing age are having fewer than two children on average.

That’s a development so significant that it’s worth saying again, in a different way. The fertility rate of half the world is below replacement level.

We can’t be sure exactly when the world reached this tipping point, any more than we can be sure exactly what the total population is, but the UN stats indicate it came a little after we reached the seven billion. If we wanted to be “symbolic” we could say it happened today.

<p>NARINDER NANU/AFP/GettyImages</p>


Pregnant Indian women at a maternity ward in Nawanshahr. By mid-century India will be the world’s most-populous country.

The precise date is unimportant. What is important is that we are now exactly in the middle of perhaps the greatest demographic change in recorded history. Human numbers have grown almost uninterrupted — other than during for a couple of brief downturns occasioned by disasters such as the black plague — for thousands of years.

Biology and the scriptures urged us to be fruitful and to multiply. Now, quite suddenly in relative terms, half the people of the world have decided not to multiply.

This is not to say population has peaked. Half the world is still reproducing at more than replacement rate, and there is a lag of about 30 years, or one generation, between the time that fertility falls and the time population does.

What has peaked is the rate of population growth. It took just 12.5 years for the world’s population to grow from four to five billion, 11.8 years for it to grow from five to six, but it has taken almost 13 years to grow to seven billion.

And birth rates across most of the world are falling far more quickly than predicted even a few years ago.

The way things are going, it’s entirely possible that in little more than a generation world population will stop growing, and that our children will live to see a planet with many millions, maybe a billion, fewer people on it than there are now.

They could see a world where labour moves as freely as capital, as was the case until the 20th century. They could also see new social tensions, fostered by politicians exploiting racist attitudes. They could see mass unemployment, if our economic system fails to adapt to a low-growth world. Or they could see a world in which fewer people all get a bigger share.

What our children will experience depends on how we handle an unprecedented demographic shift that is literally changing the complexion of the world, darkening its features as the relative numbers of Europeans and east Asians decline and the numbers of south Asians and Africans increase.

Changing ethnicity is the least of it really, as you’ll shortly see.

Biology and the scriptures urged us to be fruitful and to multiply. Now, quite suddenly in relative terms, half the people of the world have decided not to multiply.

First, though, let’s look at what has already happened, and how.

In order for a society to keep its population stable, each woman needs to produce an average of 2.1 children. Demographers call this statistic – the average number of births per woman – the Total Fertility Rate. The population of any society which has a TFR of below 2.1 for any length of time will begin to shrink (assuming, of course, that the numbers are not made up through migration). It will also get older on average.

Much of the western world has had fertility rates below the magic 2.1 level for more than a generation and, as a result, it has begun to shrink and/or age.

Take Italy, for example.

When the next Pope moves into the Vatican, he will move to the epicentre of the failure of his church’s authority. Despite Catholicism’s opposition to fertility control, Italians have taken to it in a big way, and there just aren’t a lot of little Catholic babies being born anymore in Italy, which is now one of the least fertile nations in Europe.

Italy’s total fertility rate falls way short of that 2.1 replacement level. Over the five years to 2010 it was just 1.38. As a result, Italy now is also among the oldest nations on Earth, with a median age of 43.2. This places it among a handful of countries which have only three working-age people for each older, retired person.

But Italy is by no means unique among nations, or even an extreme example of an ageing population. Europe as a whole has been reproducing below replacement rate since the mid-1970s. Between 2005 and 2010, according to UN figures, the continent’s fertility rate was just 1.53.

As a result, the only thing preventing Europe from shrinking is immigration. The same applies to Australia and almost all the rest of the developed world. Unless these countries can find a way to get their citizens to make more babies again — which, as the Pope and policy-makers know, is very hard to do — the only solution is to import people from the less developed world.

The xenophobes might not like it, but without it, the future is Japan.

Like Europe, Japan’s fertility rate has been below replacement level since the mid-1970s. But unlike Europe, Japan has almost no immigration.

Given that there is a lag of about 30 years, one generation, between the time a country’s reproductive rate falls below replacement level and the time it begins to decline, Japan’s population now is falling. And the rate of decline is increasing sharply.

By the turn of the century, according to the UN’s Population Division projections, Japan’s population will most likely fall by a quarter. And this projection may well be understating things. The current rate of reproduction would see Japan’s population more than halve, from around 125 million in 2010 to about 55 million in 2100.

And as we know, as birth rates decline in a country, the average age of its citizens increases. In 2010, the median age of the Japanese was 44.7. If it maintains its current low fertility rate, the median age will be 56 by 2050, and 60.4 by 2100.

If you want to understand why Japan’s economy has remained flat despite repeated efforts at economic stimulus over the past 20 years, and also predict the likely outcome of the latest huge effort at stimulus, taking a quick look at the country’s demographic profile is a good way to start.

<p>Jamie Ferguson/The Global Mail</p>

Jamie Ferguson/The Global Mail

Again, Japan is far from being the starkest example of low fertility. Eighteen other countries have lower rates of reproduction. The most extreme is Singapore, which is now one of the most crowded places on Earth, but which could be much emptier soon, unless its people lift their fertility rate from its current 0.78.

At that rate, without immigration, by 2100, three generations from now, Singapore’s population would be down more than 90 per cent, from the current 5.2 million to well under half a million, mostly geriatric, citizens.

Singapore is not Japan, however; it is importing people at a phenomenal rate. Forty per cent of its total population are non-citizens. The “non-resident” population grew 7.2 per cent in 2012 alone.

This is creating a backlash: “Singapore for the Singaporeans” is the slogan of protest. Community pressure recently forced the government to reduce the intake of foreigners. Even the official glossy government “population brief” says: “We recognise that new immigrants take time to integrate into our society, and taking in too many too quickly could weaken social cohesion.”

These words eerily echo former Australian prime minister John Howard, when he was warning about Asian immigration in 1988. Ironic that an Asian government now should be saying the same thing.

But before we go further into the consequences of declining population, let’s get back to the big global picture.

It should be noted that the UN still thinks it most likely that the world’s population will keep growing until about 2100, topping out at about 10 billion.

But that assumes a recovery in the fertility rate of many of the low-fertility countries, which to date has shown little sign of occurring. In fact, across much of Europe and in America the recession has sent birth rates plunging again. And many demographers believe it is likely the UN is also over-estimating the fertility of China.

Several well-respected forecasters think the population peak will come lower and sooner than this. The UN itself produces an alternative “low growth” model, which foresees global population peaking only about 30 years from now, at a little over eight billion, then declining fast to be about six billion by 2100.

It took just 12.5 years for the world’s population to grow from four to five billion, 11.8 years for it to grow from five to six, but it has taken almost 13 years to grow to seven billion.

An interesting recent exercise in number crunching, conducted by US economist David Merkel, using fertility data from the CIA World Factbook, concluded world population would peak even sooner, just 17 years from now, at 8.5 billion.

The reason there are many differing estimates is that there are so many variables involved in predicting population — not just birth rates but death rates, life expectancy and migration, and small variations in the assumptions used in the various models compound into large differences over time.

But the trend evidence is the same everywhere; fertility rates are coming down, and falling much faster than generally predicted only a few years ago.

This might seem a comforting development to those of us who grew up fearing the Malthusian nightmare presented in Paul Elrlich’s 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, with its predictions of exponential population growth, environmental catastrophe and mass starvation.

However, the likely repercussions of this shift are more complex. For a start, environmental impact is not a function of population alone, but of population combined with consumption and technology.

And instead of one population problem, we now have two. In some parts of the world — the poorer parts, by and large — population continues to grow apace, while in others — Europe, East Asia, the Americas — there has been what many see as an over-correction. At one extreme is Niger, where the fertility rate is 7.16. At the other extreme, as we mentioned earlier, is Singapore, at 0.78, whose citizens appear intent on extinction.

No doubt the world’s population has to decline to be sustainable in the long term, says Peter McDonald, professor of demography at the Australian National University and president of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population. But it has to decline in an orderly way.

<p>Jamie Ferguson/The Global Mail</p>

Jamie Ferguson/The Global Mail

“Countries need to have a birth rate not too far from replacement level, somewhere in the 1.7 to 2.0 area. Once you drop below that, you cause too much damage to your age structure,” he says.

In other words, you have too many old people for the young people to support.

“If you have a birth rate of one,” he says, “that means your population falls by half in one generation, which is about 30 years. After three generations you’re down to one-eighth of your starting population. And one-sixteenth after four.

“If the Japanese keep their birthrate where it is they’ll quickly become extinct.”

“Equally, if you’re much above two and you’re a big country, you’re growing way too much.”

Let’s deal with overpopulation first, because the places in which it is concentrated, Africa and south Asia, will be as important to our future — maybe more important — than the declining nations of Europe and east Asia. Already Indians make up the biggest part of Australia’s skilled migration, for example.

Africa is going to be where the biggest action is in coming decades, because it is the place on Earth with the greatest untapped resources, both natural and human. It will have the greatest population growth into the future. It is what China was a generation ago, and could become what China is today — the economic powerhouse of the world.

Exaggeration? Consider this: in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund, economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 6 per cent. Export growth was more than 30 per cent.

This was while Europe was mired in recession, the United States was staggering along and even China was slowing.

<p>Jamie Ferguson/The Global Mail</p>

Jamie Ferguson/The Global Mail

And guess which country is the biggest investor in Africa, and its largest trading partner? China. As in so many areas, from high-speed transport to renewable energy, China is proving more far-sighted — if not necessarily more benign — than western nations.

But Africa and south Asia have a big problem to overcome: too many people.

For most of human history, people had many children, because many children died. Agrarian or basic industrial economies also needed lots of labour. In addition, where there was no prospect of saving for retirement or getting a pension, your offspring were your safety net in old age. A big family is still seen as an advantage in societies characterised by high infant and maternal mortality, economic underdevelopment, inadequate infrastructure and poor education.

In more advanced economies, though, that advantage disappears. It goes instead to those who have fewer offspring and who put more resources into the education of those offspring — to those who do brain work and who save for their futures.

The keys to lowering fertility rates are pretty well agreed, too. The best things you can do are empower and educate women, provide access to family planning and foster secular institutions, stable government and economies.

Some places, notably China and India, have also employed coercive measures such as sterilisation campaigns and denial of benefits to those who have too many children. Apart from the unacceptability of such measures on human rights grounds, though, they have been of mixed success. China’s population has stopped growing (and is about to begin to shrink quickly), in part due to 32 years of the one-child policy, and in part due to the changing demographic realities of a developing economy.

India’s population still is growing quickly, but its fertility rate has declined sharply.

Ready access to birth control has changed the developing world, mostly for the economic better, although there have been some problems along the way. In some countries, a preference for male offspring has led to selective termination of pregnancies, which brings its own problems. In some Indian cities, for example, there are only 800 women for every 1000 men, an imbalance seen as a contributing factor to general social instability, violence and sex crimes.

Overall, though, policies directed at lowering fertility have wrought an astonishing change. Even most of south Asia is moving rapidly towards stabilising its fertility. Bangladesh is just above replacement rate now, and India is about 2.7, down from 3.3 a decade ago. Pakistan is more problematic, but it too has come down sharply over the past 10 years, from about 5 to a bit over 3. Of course, the 30-odd-year lag between the reduction in fertility and the reduction in population means the numbers of people born in these countries will continue to grow for decades yet.

<p>STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images</p>

STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

India’s population is still growing quickly, but its fertility rate has sharply declined. In some Indian cities there are only 800 women for every 1000 men.

By mid-century, India will be by far the world’s most populous country.

Africa is more difficult. Its fertility rate is falling, but more slowly, and still is above 4.5.

There are several likely reasons for this: the continent’s troubled economies, political instability and lack of education among them.

Yet over the past couple of decades, the resources going to family planning in sub-Saharan Africa have declined, says Jose Miguel Guzman, chief of the population and development branch of the United Nations Population Fund.

Again, this change is due to several factors: the political influence of the anti-birth-control religious right in America, the developed world’s economic crisis of the past five years, and the diversion of aid to other concerns, notably addressing Africa’s HIV epidemic.

“I’ve seen a very illuminating graph that shows global assistance for HIV/AIDS and family planning. They are inverse curves,” Peter McDonald says.

Over the past couple of years, though, there have been increased efforts to again develop family planning programs in Africa.

“The Gates Foundation is now involved and providing substantial support,” McDonald says.

“It’s not just aid of course, but you need to have stable governments capable of running family-planning programs.”

The hope, he says, is that increased investment in Africa and consequent economic growth will do for Africa what it did for Asia: bring greater stability and cause the birth rate to fall sharply.

We might add that western authorities, even the political conservatives in the United States, are beginning to recognise their self-interest in a more stable, lower-fertility south Asia and Africa. It’s not just a matter of resources. They are waking up to what is sometimes called the demographics of terrorism.

Countries with large numbers of young, poor men breed extremism. Just look at the 10 countries with the highest fertility rates. The list includes Niger, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, the Republic of the Congo, and one non-African nation, Afghanistan.

<p>Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images</p>

Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Singapore is importing people at a phenomenal rate. Without immigration, by 2100 the population would be under half a million and mostly geriatric citizens.

Not far behind, in fertility terms, we have Angola, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Gaza, and Nigeria, among others.

The political right in the developed world is apt to blame Islam for terrorism. But the real roots of the problem are youth, masculinity, poverty and the lack of education, opportunity, and good governance.

And those things all relate, directly or indirectly, to demography.

Consider three big Islamic countries in which Islamic terrorism does not flourish: Bangladesh, Indonesia and Turkey, which are not only democratic and developing, but whose respective fertility rates of 2.38, 2.19 and 2.15, put them very close to replacement rate.

And consider this also: as the populations of the developed world decline and age, working-age people, from whatever source, will be in great demand. The asylum seekers so often scorned today — those Afghans, Sri Lankans, and Africans — are likely to be the immigrants we value tomorrow.

Bottom line: there are lots of reasons to care about the future of the high-fertility countries, beyond altruism.

The problems of low-fertility, of declining populations, are a whole lot more difficult to solve, for they challenge the foundation of the social and economic structures of the the developed world, and therefore of the whole world as we know it.

Next: The Politics Of Population Shifts

52 comments on this story
by dedalus

Great article.

A population closer to 3 billion, with a non-growing replacement rate, rather than 10 billion scrabbling for declining resources, would be a worthy goal to aim for in the next century if we are to have a sustainable planet.

Climate change policies combined with productivity gains from technological advances give us some hope for this. But enlightened governence will be crucial, since we can't count on a curbing of our greedy mindset.

March 12, 2013 @ 10:18pm
by MikeA

In a capitalist economy, seeking efficiencies and cost reductions is the norm. However the economies of the world cannot cope with deflation the natural outcome of these efficiencies and cost downs.
Reducing population is the same phenomena. As an economy progresses the birthrate drops so again we must find a way to prosper with this phenomena

March 13, 2013 @ 9:50pm
by Cultural Suicide

Modernity equals extinction.

March 15, 2013 @ 7:05am
by Ed Powell

There is no over-population anywhere, just over-regulation and under-freedom. Modern human society depends on the production of goods and services, not just food, shelter, and clothing, but ipods, aircraft, networks, pharmaceuticals, symphonies, and automobiles. Where do all these goods and services come from? From the work of other people. If there are fewer people in the world, there will be fewer goods and services, fewer choices, fewer opportunities, and a smaller standard of living for each remaining person. Values are created by the human mind, which Julian Simon called the "ultimate resource." We need more minds.

The world needs *more* people, a *lot* more people. We should be talking about how to increase human population to a *trillion* people--and that's just on Earth; the solar system could house a lot more than that. The more people we have, the better specialization of labor, the more ideas, the more art, the more fun, the more growth, the more joy we all have. More people combined with economic and political freedom, so they can live their lives the way they see fit, and thus benefit us all, is what the world needs.

The West is indeed committing suicide, because the West is dominated by philosophies of death. Religions speak of the life hereafter and sacrifice to God, secular philosophies preach that humans are evil, and should sacrifice themselves to nature. If the West had a philosophy of life, a pro-human being philosophy of freedom, of peace and prosperity, that would break the shackles of government oppression, we could live to see birthrates rise again, and make our way to an unlimited future--made possible by an unlimited number of human beings.

March 15, 2013 @ 8:42am
by Kevin Andrews

Dear Mike,

Your population article is very timely. Few people understand the momentum of population decline – and the consequences for many nations. It is something that I discussed in my recent book, Maybe ‘I do’. The topic deserves the sort of attention you have given to it.

Kind regards,

Kevin Andrews.

March 15, 2013 @ 2:58pm
by Claudius

It's exaggeration to say world population will decrease and that birth rate is low. There are enough people in the world as it is, even more than enough. There are people in this world who go to sleep hungry. This problem of poverty should be addressed and a priority to solve, instead of more breeding. Millions beg for even food and mere existence. Bringing more people into the world just means propagating more problems as the world is incapable of creating jobs.

Best regards.

March 15, 2013 @ 3:56pm
by Sean OLeary

The Western world is not advancing scientifically or industrially due to anti-growth, anti-industry and anti-science policy platforms. Thus, life is getting harder economically, and thus people in the Western or Westernising world are forced to work harder and have fewer children. We are working with 50 year old production systems essentially, with a few bells and whistles being added to create the illusion of progress. However, the microelectronics, for example, at the basis of gadgets essentially is from the 1960s. There have been few revolutionary advances or broad-based implementations of the advances that we have made, such as nuclear power and maglev rail which are continually scuttled by irrational screamers.

In countries like Australia, we are deliberately forcing farmers off the land so that food needs to be imported, increasingly. Policymakers are trying to shut down water systems and associated food bowls like the Murray-Darling Basin on the basis of bogus environmental arguments. Indeed, the entire sustainability agenda actually proactively preaches the necessity and inevitability of population reduction, all the while forcing policies on nations to reduce their food and production which of course does have the effect of reducing population.

Why is it that with increasing computerisation, a family in the West can barely get by with two working parents? In the 1950s and 1960s, a family with four children could live comfortably on one "blue collar" income. The other thing is the takeover of former government/public infrastructure and institutions by banksters, profiteers and free trade policies - also known as deregulation and privatisation. Nations are being deliberately destroyed by decades long policy wrecking balls. This is the foundation of the problem. The fact that people are having fewer children is really a result of their choices being shaped by an environment of enforced austerity. This article is only talking about a symptom of the basic problem which is largely ignored by mainstream policymakers and almost entirely ignored by mainstream journalists.

The history of the world over the last 1000 years in the big picture is one of scientific and industrial development, coupled with exponential population growth *and* rising living standards. Science and industry both need and create population growth. Thus, population growth is a cause and a by-product at the same time. The two are intertwined. Essentially, the science of economy is that of physical science and industry, and human development is intertwined with that which is a wonderful thing. Sadly, policymakers and politicians think like beancounters, being concerned solely with balancing the books which any accountant can do. Yet statesmanship and qualification to play a role in writing policy for human affairs requires a much broader and more profound insight into history, the potential future and the drivers of growth and human development.

March 16, 2013 @ 8:11am
by henderson ruth

This is a very interesting article but the decrease or stabilisation of the worldpopulation alone does not ensure that consumtion and degradation of the environment decreases accordingly.The whole issue is so complex and there are so many conflicting interrests.Mybe populationincrease or decrease is not even the most important issue,but consumtion.What,how much and how do we consume and what do we do with the things once we are done with them?.What do we need vs.what do we want ,how much /many do we want,how are those things prodced? It could be that we do not even need a drastic decrease in population but a better distribution of goods and sevices combined with care and a responsible use of our natural resourses.

March 16, 2013 @ 8:19am
by Pablo

The important of low fertility rations around the world is not to reverse the actual trend, we need to accept this and to make plans for an smart down sizing of the population in our world

March 16, 2013 @ 9:30am
by Jan thompson

In david attenboroughs life time the world's population has trebled and the effect on the environment has been disastrous. I welcome a reduction in the world population, perhaps the planet may recover.

March 16, 2013 @ 9:51am
by Mac Hoban

Ed Powell tells us the earth should have a population of a trillion people. 150 times the present groaning overload. Good one Ed! Perhaps he thinks with a breeding program like that even he might get laid.

March 16, 2013 @ 12:29pm
by Frederika Steen

Thanks for a great framework within which immigration and illegal immigration - the redistribution of people- can be discussed rationally, and Australia's use of selected immigration to "nation build" can be reviewed.

March 16, 2013 @ 11:23pm
by Valerie Yule

The fact of low-fertility, declining populations should not be seen only in the light of the consequence of ageing populations, but as a rational response to the world’s present and increasing shortages of water and other essential natural resources, cramped life-styles of the masses, decreasing land for wildlife, and increasing challenges of climate changes. It is irrational to think that we must always have growth of economic production requiring growth of population. The continued population growth of Africa sets problems of political instability, forced emigrations, droughts, loss of wildlife and jungles, increasing deserts and continued oppression of women.
The problem of ageing populations needs to be met by other means than increasing birthrates. The healthy old are an asset not a burden. The sick aged are a burden on other people to care for them, that is, demands on labor, with minimum need for economic production of goods to keep them alive. We must solve the problem of the chronic slow dying of the ‘struldbrugs’ that we must fear for ourselves.
We must have a new model of economic production and profit to meet declining populations. World population in 1950 was far fewer than now; it was not excessive. We might retreat to those figures.

March 17, 2013 @ 2:21pm
by Georgina

Another great article form someone who can always be relied on to do so. I just wish such articles as these could get the mainstream exposure they deserve. It's depressing to read some of the responses though...Ed Powell for one just doesn't get it! What planet does he think we live, on I wonder? Is he some kind of robot with no need for breatheable air, drinkable water or food worth eating? If he is a robot what is his power source.?..He might still, even being a robot, have a few problems when systems collapse through the double whammy of overuse of resources and too many humans in total...think totally drug resistant bacteria etc...Technology and incredible ingenuity are now our only hope as a species... but we still have biological and environmental needs that cannot be met if we have trashed the only available arable land/potable water supply and badly maybe permanently damaged our awfully thin atmosphere.

March 17, 2013 @ 6:22pm
by David Morris

What a load of dangerous bollocks. If we believe that citizens of third world countries have a right to expect a better standard of living, the only possible solution includes a lower global population. Do a Google search on Ecological Footprint and draw your own conclusions. There is a good quote in the Wikipedia article:

". . . the average world citizen has an eco-footprint of about 2.7 global average hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectare of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of "natural capital"

Then there is the small issue of climate change. The current projections put us on a path where the world will be unable to sustain a population of more than about half a billion people. Since human population is expected to peak at around 11 billion, this century, the transition to half a billion is going to be traumatic.

March 17, 2013 @ 6:38pm
by David Morris

All right, I retract my previous comment. The start of the article looked like simple booster-ism for the cargo cultists of the neo-liberal right, and some perverse individuals who label themselves as "progressive", neither of whom seem able to comprehend the possibility of physical limits to population, or of economic growth.

"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist" - Kenneth J. Boulding (an economist).

Getting over my anger at the apparent theme at the start of the article and skimming the rest I can see it is more nuanced than that and makes some valid points. I still think Mother Nature, or Gaia, will step in and forcibly limit our population for us, in the next century or two, and in ways we will not like. I agree that any change that is too sudden can have adverse effects, and it would be nice if we could manage our way to a stable and sustainable population.

March 17, 2013 @ 7:28pm
by David Morris

I checked the world population projections from the UN 2010 report, and it does give a range of from roughly 8 to nearly 11 billion by 2050, but only at the 95% extremes. I read that "up to 11 billion" somewhere else, and, based on my experience of climate change reporting I added my own fudge factor, assuming things are worse than has been reported.

So, the median projection is more like 9 billion by 2050 and, according to Mike, there are signs that we might go lower than that. That does indeed give me some level of comfort. Although I take the point about the downside of a rapid shift in rates.

March 17, 2013 @ 9:15pm
by Alice Oppen

One of the fundamental ways we can help achieve population balance, multiplying at replacement level around the globe, is to support universal access to family planning. Where women can space births and nurture a viable number of children optimally, whole populations gain health, gender equity, socialisation of youth and economic improvement. Women's Plans Foundation donates through Australian NGOs for inclusion of family planning in programs in the Asia Pacific region.

March 18, 2013 @ 1:06pm
by Atheist

This is a good thing. We are over populated as it is. Why do we want more people bumping around into each other. We are no more special than any other animal on this planet.

March 19, 2013 @ 1:05am
by Theist

Not a peep about the real cause of reducing fertility.
Chemicals which are now ubiquitous, which destroy fertility. Sperm numbers and viability are way down in every analysis worldwide. We are poisoning ourselves out of existence, and because of the now-global spreading of depleted uranium from the real extremist and terrorist nations, even those who can still produce children wish to God that they hadn't.
Bill Gates says publically that his vaccination programme in Africa and elsewhere is all about population reduction. This is the Agenda of the elitists, the only problem is that they will destroy the entire world as they achieve their goal.

March 19, 2013 @ 7:24pm
by Aude Sapere

I wouldn't worry about the population explosion anymore, with monSatan's GMOs causing infertility, estrogen-mimicking plastics and pesticides reducing sperm counts by 50% over the last few decades, antibiotics no longer working, and coal-burning power plants, fish, teeth fillings and vaccines loading us up with organ destroying mercury, as well as microwave cellphone towers, chemtrails, and global warming, it will be a wonder if any of us survive.

March 19, 2013 @ 11:06pm
by mumble

Why is it a bad thing if a population shrinks? I'm sure the planet will be grateful.

March 20, 2013 @ 5:05am
by ruth Kald

China's population has not stopped growing, and will not for several decades.

All legitimate population projections(as opposed to your mysterious sources) still say we will be over 9 billion and still growing by 2050.

Birth rates mean very little - it's births that count, and they are not decreasing by any meaningful amount.

Learn math. Do your research. Population issues are facts - not politics.

March 20, 2013 @ 4:01pm
by Tony D'Ambra

A timely , well-argued, and soundly researched wake-up call.

What is missing perhaps is a recogniton of the two elephants in the room. The physical aka resource limits to growth, and environmental degradation. A new paradigm would ditch the mantra of growth for a global commitment to sustainable development. Of course, this means open borders for capital, innovation, and employment.

March 20, 2013 @ 6:11pm
by Clee

Very very nice article. Well done.

March 21, 2013 @ 3:47pm
by Note

The world is not over populated. It's the fact that we can't control ourselves or our resources that's the problem. As for hunger, for instance, Africa was doing just fine before foreigners came in and changed things. Let them leave the cities and give them their land back. It's the same unfortunate effect that happened to the Native Americans.

March 22, 2013 @ 3:09am
by Yottie

A lot of words to say nothing. Some facts not even mentioned; population growth and poverty go hand in hand, the higher the growth, the greater the poverty; China only started raising its living standards (its per capia incomes) after it slowed its rate of population growth; and the nations with the most degraded environments are those with rapid population growth.
Australia's relatively rapid pop.growth could easily and quickly be stopped by scrapping the baby bonus (after the first birth) and reducing mass immigration to net zero. These measures would save taxpayers about $5 billion p.a. and be electorally very popular.

March 22, 2013 @ 11:53am
by Neelam

Thanks you Mike for such a informative article....Being an Indian i can say we are not doing so bad in term of maintaining population balance:)

March 23, 2013 @ 7:12pm
by Crystal

Even if every person reduced their footprint as much as possible the world is still overpopulated. Even living as sustainably as possible there are too few resources for 7+ billion people. If you do not understand this, you are in denial. Ever country needs to reduce its birthrate for a higher standard of living and to increase the value of each person.

March 25, 2013 @ 11:07am
by Janis Brodie-Grant

What about the effects of AIDS in Africa. This will lower the population dramatically.

March 29, 2013 @ 12:26pm
by whosaid

to " Janis Brodie-Grant"

good, we can only hope, they're noting but parasites

March 31, 2013 @ 8:26pm
by Sharan

This raises some fundamental questions about the way we run our economies. Here a few things to consider.

1) We aim to grow our economies indefinitely on a finite planet. This obviously can't go on forever, and a 2009 CSIRO report claims that if growth continues as it is we will reach severe and damaging shortages by 2050.

2) We grow our economies for two reasons;
a) the first is to increase our standard of living,
b) the second to provide jobs for a growing population.

3) If we recognise that our standards of living cannot continue to increase forever, we can accept some sort of limit on the amount of growth that we want. If our populations aren't increasing, we aren't forced to grow our economies for the sake of providing employment. In other words, a steady population provides the opportunity to pursue a STEADY-STATE ECONOMY. This isn't a new idea field of ecological economics has been working on it for some time.

4) Its worth noting that Japan and some countries in Europe haven't really grown for many years, and that this hasn't really affected the well being of its citizens.

Perhaps it will be possible over the next century to transition to a truly sustainable economy?

March 31, 2013 @ 11:21pm
by rajiv

1. catholicism is opposed to artificial birth control . I'm not sure that this is exactly the same thing as opposition to "fertility control "

2. you seem to portray Japan as having a dystopic future as a result of it's distaste for mass immigration combined with a very low birth rate . I expect many of us will come to envy Japan's policy choice

April 1, 2013 @ 5:30pm
by demografix

Fertility drops as economic prosperity grows. It is called the 'demographic paradox', so the best thing we can do for the developing world is to help them prosper.
In many western countries that experienced a baby boom, in Australia from 1946 to 1954, the death bust follow as a reflection after the lives are lived. In Australia, and I suspect many other western nations, the deaths double of the next 2.5 decades and the natural growth may drop to zero or even negative. As these nations age, they are becoming anti-immigration, so population peak and then decline is just about assured. Finnaly, in a declining population policy will be forward looking and not 'rear view mirror' as is the case with most western nations now. Certainly the most intereting time in history for anyone under 20, to perhaps witness global peak poplulation and then its decline.

April 1, 2013 @ 8:03pm
by Simon

Great article - and the comments are just beyond belief. Looks like the Green Left is as dumb as Tony Abbott.

I really like the idea that I might live long enough to see Peak Human in about 17 years. I had not read how fast it was coming. And was only telling the kids the other day they should live long enough to see a world with less people.

Once we turn the corner on energy production - again probably within 17 years - the world is going to be one amazing place in the 22nd century.

It's incredible how the population decline will pretty much match up with the end of so many jobs through automation and robotics - as we continue to get smarter as a civilization we should be able to manage this cross over far better than how things went in the first half the 20th century.

A seriously great piece of writing that should be compulsory reading for everyone who thinks an opinion is as important as the facts.

April 14, 2013 @ 1:14pm
by Rose

Comments by WhoSaid March 31st 8.26pm one of the most offensive things Ive ever read

May 6, 2013 @ 4:56pm
by piyush

I am seriously worried about the fate of the planet earth. Humans are the curse to this amazing planet that includes me to consume inorganic stuff just to stay alive. Religious and power fanatics are destroying the quality of life and growing world population is the exact cause. No couple should be allow to produce more than two child. World leaders should take some serious action on this otherwise we all are in real danger of being a victim of needless violence.

May 26, 2013 @ 9:37am
by Rose

Regarding comments by "Simon" Such a pleasant change from the usual "progressive" anticipation that we should return to the medieval era, citing philosophy and secular metaphysics. Worth your weight in gold

May 30, 2013 @ 10:04pm
by John

Anyone who pretends that the world situation is going to get any better in the near future if the current trends and patterns continue, including the very real problem of over-population then I would suggest that you read the contents of these three related websites which feature the writings/warnings of an author who could clearly see where humankind was heading.

June 7, 2013 @ 12:29pm
by PG

Low birth rate going to have to happen , less population , less consumption , a change in business and financial ideas . We cannot go on consuming natural resources at the current rate , these resources are finite , the new ideas will have to be longer lasting products , products must be recyclable . The earth can only support a certain population , and with the current deforestation , desert creation , lack of water in many countries , and climate change making agriculture production difficult , and agricultural policies creating unsustainable agriculture , population will be unsustainable .
As citizens are educated they start to query political and financial policies , and as in many countries there is auto-regulation of populations.

June 14, 2013 @ 4:18pm
by Brian K

What is too much population? When the world had 1 billion, a much higher % of the population lived in true poverty. There is selective morality by the author in this article, I sense the world's population not living a relatively rich standard of living is seen as worse than the tragedy of abortion. To live at a basic standard of living (basic food, basic shelter, a mother and father, and practice of the 10 Commandments), the world's resources could sustain at least 10 times the current population with current technology and likely far more than this with future technology. With 10 times the amount of people, there may be 10 times the amount of ideas and developments. But if we take God out the equation and look to secularism for the answer, then we are all doomed. Look at Pope Paul VI prediction on the terrible consequences of contraceptive birth control in Humana Vitae, which was treated with ridicule by seculars, the consequences of which are seemingly coming to fruition.

September 3, 2013 @ 4:24am
by kiwichick

religion is one of the problems

women must have the right to control how many children they have

September 15, 2013 @ 6:24pm
by allan

wealth is harmony. world resources last forever. universe is selfregulating and dynamic system. be happy :) amen

November 4, 2013 @ 6:38pm
by Ashvir Singh

Population of world decline,hopefully...

November 6, 2013 @ 1:10am
by Lloyd

The problems of climate change and environment are all driven by too many people on the planet. I don't know what the answer for me as an individual is but if we have less people, perhaps there is a chance for wildlife and habitats to be restored (where they haven't already gone extinct). So sad. Maybe one day humans can reach a balance between themselves and our planet

November 7, 2013 @ 2:29pm
by Ruth Lipscombe

Thank goodness somebody is talking/writing about OVERPOPULATION!
Some of the statistics in this article are surprising ,I suggest the author checks up on the present validity of his comment on the 'one child' policy for China.

December 28, 2013 @ 10:17am
by Richard

About ignorance: as an eighteen year old [1967], I took a labouring job in London. The 'ganger' was a wisened West African with the strength of ten men. I was the only white boy in his gang. My best mate was a chap of my age. He had two 'wives' and six children. Once I asked, when he complained about the wages [we earned more than double my elder brother, the hospital doctor with a wife and two two children, earned], why he does not use condoms. He explained: "it's the heat makes babies man, the rubber does not stop the heat". I was not then wise enough to take the conversation further, as we drank our ganger's lunchtime gift, of Guiness and rum chaser.

December 28, 2013 @ 6:39pm
by Peter Hurford

I believe the subject relates to birth rate, fertility is not the question ......most females are fertile,many make a choice?

December 28, 2013 @ 6:47pm
by AndrewSmith

Excellent article, running against the soometimes alarmist media meme of overpopulation and high immigration in Australia, only achieved through conflation (of temps with permanents) to reach an inflated figure including backpackers, students etc..

This meme accepted by all media, has been pushed by Australia's own neo Malthusian groups related to John Tanton (formerly with Ehrlich in ZPG) anti immigration network in the USA, i.e. Sustainable Population Australia and Birrell's CPUR at Monash University (+ related, MP Kelvin Thomson, Ehrlich's mate Bob Carr etc.).

Sad indictment of all Australian media, who claim clear connection between population/immigration and negative effects vs News Corp who stick to giving refugees grief (what are they playing at, surely no dog whisting?), that no journalist or reporter seems to possess basic skills of analysis and critical thinking?

Prof. Hans Rosling complements the above article with his good news on the planet i.e. population growth has started slowing, fertility rates in less developed world have plummeted due to economic growth, education and healthcare, with developed and developing worlds converging.

'Don't Panic - The Truth About Population'

The question was asked, why does it seem to be only white middle class ageing men who are concerned about supposed high population growth and immigration, even when empirical evidence of negative consequences does not exist?

Prof. Ian Goldin of Oxford University states that the first world has already entered a period where there will be international competition for workers and skilled people, with Africa becoming central in this phenomenon through migration, the best form of international development, but don't tell the nativists......

December 28, 2013 @ 9:05pm
Show previous 49 comments
by Cassian

While this is an important topic, there a few things wrong with this article.

Firstly, the author claims that unless Western countries can find a way to get their citizens to start having more children, then "the only solution is to import people from the less developed world."

Yet, the claim that Western countries NEED immigration to offset their aging populations simply does not stack up.

A 1999 Australian parliamentary research paper, entitled "Population Futures for Australia: the Policy Alternatives", looked at the claim that immigration could offset an ageing population. It found that in order to maintain the proportion of the population aged 65 and over at present levels:

"... enormous numbers of immigrants would be required, starting in 1998 at 200 000 per annum, rising to 4 million per annum by 2048 and to 30 million per annum by 2098. By the end of next century with these levels of immigration, our population would have reached almost one billion."

The paper concluded:

"It is demographic nonsense to believe that immigration can help to keep our population young. No reasonable population policy can keep our population young."

The UN has also examined this issue. Its report, entitled "Replacement Migration: Is It A Solution to Declining and Ageing Population?", often cited as proving the case for replacement immigration, actually came to the completely opposite conclusion. The authors concluded that the scale of immigration needed to change the demographic profile of a whole country is so large as to be “out of reach”. For example, to combat the effect of aging population in South Korea (a very rapidly aging society) almost the entire population of the earth would have to move there by 2050!

Using immigration to offset an aging population is actually counterproductive over the long term as - shock- immigrants themselves grow old.

As a British government report summed up in 2001:

“The single reason why even large constant net migration flows would not prevent support ratios from falling in the long term is that migrants grow old as well! Although a steady large inflow of young migrants would continue to boost the working-age population, before long it would start adding to the retirement-age population, and a four-to-one (say) potential support ratio could not be maintained.”

The same report came to this conclusion:

“Immigration policies should be governed by political and humanitarian objectives, and not by demographic considerations."

The Council of Europe came to the same conclusion in a 2000 report:

“Migration flows cannot in future be used to reverse trends in population ageing and decline in most Council of Europe countries. The flows required would be too large and it would be impossible to integrate them into the economy and society.”

I've noticed that open borders enthusiasts like to confer immigrants with superhuman attributes. It appears immunity from the aging process is one of them.

December 29, 2013 @ 5:44pm
by Cassian

I notice that Seccombe singles out Singapore for criticism, saying that its citizens' concerns about the impact of high immigration on social cohesion "eerily echo former Australian prime minister John Howard, when he was warning about Asian immigration in 1988. Ironic that an Asian government now should be saying the same thing."

I'm not entirely sure how that's ironic. In truth, humans are naturally ethnocentric, preferring to live in the company of their own kin. Non-Western societies tend to be far more ethnocentric than Western societies, largely because ethnocentricism among European peoples has been systematically pathologised as "racism" in most Western countries.

As Australian ethologist Frank Salter notes:

"... the notion that preference for one’s own people is immoral ignores the universal interest we all share in particular affiliations. All humans share parochial interests that give rise to social preferences. It would be maladaptive not to prefer people of our own type, beginning with kin. And in general, this preference is moral. Bearing and caring for our own children, choosing friends on intuition, and having a special affection for our own country cannot be equated with hating others. A liberal society that allows free expression of these moderate preferences is hardly the moral inferior of one in which the elite scolds and punishes the people’s aspirations to have a country of their own."


"Evolutionary origins of territoriality and ethnocentrism are indicated by their being human universals as well as being found in apes. And from the evolutionary perspective, which acknowledges the limited carrying capacity of all territories and of the world itself, it is maladaptive to allow one’s lineage – family, clan, or ethnic group to be replaced by others."

On the Australian experience, Salter makes the point:

"Ethnocentrism is not a White disorder and evidence is emerging that immigrant communities harbour invidious attitude towards Anglo Australians, disparaging their culture and the legitimacy of their central place in national identity."

Full article:

December 29, 2013 @ 6:06pm
by Rober2D2

Japan is always shown as an example of how shrinking population makes economy to stagnate. No echonomical growth, no inflaction. The question is: Is that really a problem? Ok, may be it is a big problem for greedy bussinesmen, but I don't think is a problem for japanese population. Flat growth, no inflaction, which means: same money, but less people to share (No growth, but we don't really need it). Low unemployment, lower energy consumption, less traffic, .... It's true that social systems in Europe will collapse (unless we change them, so there may be a solution), but I think that a declining population (better not too fast decline), has more advantages than disadvantages.

January 1, 2014 @ 1:59am
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