NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Overpopulation Myths

October 5, 1995

Is the earth becoming overpopulated? It is not a question of the human population outstripping resources, since food production continues to exceed population growth and non-renewable resources become more plentiful each year as new sources are found.

Even in sheer numbers, though, there is growing evidence that the world's population is heading toward stability.

  • The growth rate of the world's population appears to have peaked around 1970, when the annual rate of growth was 2.09 percent.
  • By 1980, annual population growth was down to 1.73 percent, and by 1990 to 1.7 percent.
  • By 1995, the annual increase had slowed even more to 1.5 percent.

What is sometimes meant by overpopulation is overcrowding, or too great a population density. However, population density varies widely. Much of the world's land surface is empty, and many countries with dense populations have a higher standard of living than less crowded countries.

  • In 1992, the population of Hong Kong City was approximately 247,501 per square mile, while in New York City it was 11,480 per square mile, and in Houston 7,512.
  • If the entire population of the world were put into the land area of Texas, each person would have an area equal to the floor space of a typical U.S. home and the population density of Texas would be about the same as Paris, France.
  • In 1988, China had a population of 409 people per square mile and gross domestic product per capita of $320, while Hong Kong, with a population density more than 450 times greater, had a per capita GDP of $8,260.

One reason people are crowded together in cities is because it makes possible many more exchanges and greater specialization of labor, thus increasing living standards.

Source: Jim Peron, "Exploding Population Myths," Fraser Forum, October 1995, Fraser Institute, 2nd Floor, 626 Bute Street, Vancouver, B. C., V6E 3M1, (604) 688-0221.


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