NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Overpopulation Isn't the Problem

November 2, 2011

With the world's population recently surpassing the 7 billion mark, classic concerns over the unsustainability of the world's population are again coming to the forefront.  However, these concerns often miss the true crux of the issue: the problem is not that there are too many people in the world, but too few babies to support them.  While this might seem contradictory, a consistent and stable growth in the number of babies helps to keep population demographics stable and avoid drastic and volatile breaks from the norm.  Yet this relationship brings just as much cause for alarm as the previous issue, as the number of children around the world has also been declining for years, says Joel Kotkin, the distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University.

  • Fifty-nine countries currently maintain fertility rates (births per average woman) below 2.1 -- a rate that will no longer replace the current population.
  • In some of the worst-off countries such as Japan, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and those in Eastern Europe, the proportion of the population over the age of 65 has skyrocketed past global averages, rising above 20 percent for each of these countries.
  • By 2030, many of these same countries will have only two workers for every retiree; economic superpowers such as the United States and China will fair only slightly better with three workers per retiree.

It is true that a lower birth rate can increase economic output in the short run by allowing workers to be more productive, thereby spurring growth.  However, the consequences of such a demographic trend are most powerfully felt in terms of the relative sizes of the worker and retiree populations.  As a growing number of the members of the workforce retire with few or no children to replace them, many countries will face the consequences of an aged population such as high dependency ratios and health care costs.

Source: Joel Kotkin, "Overpopulation Isn't the Problem: It's Too Few Babies," New Geography, October 27, 2011.

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