The new demographics
Sir, – The finding of a study published in the Lancet medical journal that shows that the world’s population is likely to peak in 2064 at about 9.7 billion, and then decline to about 8.8 billion by 2100 – two billion lower than some previous estimates – is to be welcomed. (World, July 15th).
It challenges the Malthusian view that human populations will always grow to consume the resources available and decline only through war, poverty, and plagues, arguing that improved education and access to contraceptives for women are the main cause of the reduction.
However, continued population and economic growth in a planet of finite and depleting resources is at the core of many of our problems – causing urban congestion, deforestation, pollution, environmental degradation, mass species extinction, pandemics, famines, droughts, storms, wars, forced migration and climate change.
Sharing the available wealth between fewer people will enable a better quality of life and standard of living for all, always assuming there is no further increase in inequality.
Concerns that a rising elderly population combined with a reduced working age population will place an unbearable strain on the young are overdone. Improved healthcare will improve not only life expectancies but the ability to work until a greater age.
Robotics, artificial intelligence, the knowledge economy, and other technological changes will continue to improve productivity and make wealth creation less dependent on workforce size.
Critical to achieving these desirable outcomes will be continued improvements in women’s rights to determine their family size, availability of contraception, and the improvement of health and social care systems for the elderly, so that families are not over-sized to ensure that high child mortality rates do not result in their being insufficient children to look after their parents in old age.
The greatest danger is that demagogues and nationalist leaders will see any decline in their nation’s population as a threat to their power and will seek to promote greater indigenous population growth to maintain ethnic “purity” and cultural dominance.
Small can be beautiful and less can be more.
Let us ensure a sustainable and safe future by keeping our overall population under control. – Yours, etc,