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Discussion: (40 comments)

  1. I don’t know what media Martin Lewis reads but the topic has been much discussed including books like the Birth Dirth. Many have remarked on china which is becoming old rapidly. Also if you take the Mexican TFR it implies that there will not be the folks to be illegal immigrants to the US in the future as there will not be surplus folks to fill that role (the problem in the past partly was that land had to be divided each generation, and sooner or later insufficent land was left per person to support themselves, thus the move to the city. Also wrt Mexico with the increase in Chinese labor costs due to the stabilization and soon decline in working population due first to the one child policy, that the increase labor costs plus other increased costs of doing business in China will make moving production to Mexico and Central America attractive.

  2. John Peterson

    Isn’t it the case that even if world fertility rates drop to zero population growth on average by 2040 or so, world population will still increase from about 7 billion now to about 9 billion in 2040? If so, pressures on water supplies, energy, etc. could still be a problem. Also, increases in life span could reduce the required fertility rate for zero pop growth. (I, personally, do not think there will be a problem with resource scarcity in the aggregate if prices can change to reflect scarcity, but I do not think the people who worry about these things should be dismissed out of hand.)

    1. Richard

      If the birthrate would drop to zero, i.e. No nnew babies, the population would shrink.

      1. If the birthrate drops below 2.1 per mother, the population will shrink.

    2. Methinks

      Why should silly arguments not be dismissed out-of-hand?

    3. Isn’t it the case that even if world fertility rates drop to zero population growth on average by 2040 or so, world population will still increase from about 7 billion now to about 9 billion in 2040?

      No. If fertility drops to zero, population will all ready be shrinking. Population starts to drop when rates get below 2.1. Fertility rates are dangerously at 2.36.

      If so, pressures on water supplies, energy, etc. could still be a problem.

      I like your wishy washy “could”. Of course, anything “could” be a problem. But they won’t be. The world has seen an explosion in population the last few centuries, yet we have more water, energy, etc. than at any other time in history. This is because there are now more people to have ideas and implement those ideas

      Also, increases in life span could reduce the required fertility rate for zero pop growth.

      Again, there’s that word “could”. Of course, even here, this could not happen. Most people want babies. Those babies, when they grow up, will mostly want babies.

      I do not think the people who worry about these things should be dismissed out of hand.

      Why not? The only times in the last century that there was actual scarcity, causing famine and hardship, they were gov caused.

      1. John Peterson talked about zero population growth (ZPG) which is usually equated to TFR of 1 – not zero fertility rate. Assuming TFR. of 2.1 was reached in 2040, it would still take 15-20 years to stabilize population due to the momentum of people already in the reproductive age.

  3. The population time bomb still exists. It’s been exploding for the past century. The human population has more than tripled since the 1930s and doubled since the 1960s. At 2.5 births per woman the absolute numbers are still climbing dramatically. Factor in the increase in the average life expectancy and humans are likely heading for deep trouble somewhere down the road. The earth does not tolerate such increases in any form of life without developing some type of “bomb” to take the pressure off.

    Look at the damage humans are doing to the earth and to themselves. Roughly 90% of the large forms of life in the oceans have been decimated in the past century. Tropical forests have been destroyed for use as farms, with the resulting unintended consequence of no new farmland – because there is very little topsoil in the tropics to support farming. Arable land is disappearing everywhere else. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The human race is fast becoming unsustainable.

    Don’t look now, but the fuse is already lit. It’s not a question of if, but when.

    1. hell_is_like_newark

      The Northeast & Mid-Atlantic of the USA has more trees, deer, bear, turkey, fish, etc. than did 150 years ago. Hell.. there are even rumored to be mountain lions back in Vermont after a 100 year plus absence (they are already in Maryland).

      All of this happened during a population explosion due to the original ‘green’ revolution that allowed a massive productivity increase from farmland. Also the discovery of oil and natural gas, allowing forests to NOT be cut for fuel and manufacturing of chemical (ie. potash).

      None of what you stated above is true. Give a high IQ population liberty coupled with sound and limited government. The result will be that we will never starve nor destroy the world clawing to survive.

      1. Hell, I am pretty much with Kleht on this. While I agree that in SOME PARTS of the USA, “wildlife” has proliferated, much of the rest of the developing world is at least 50 to 100 years behind North America, Northern Europe and Australia in the level of awareness of responsibility to protect our planet.

        So while the birth rate is down, until it gets below 2, doubtful we will see any net reduction in the overall global population for the next 2 maybe 3 generations. (Barring war, plague or pestilence)

        Dr. PDG, Indonesia

        1. John Dewey

          DrPDG: “While I agree that in SOME PARTS of the USA, “wildlife” has proliferated”

          From the publication Yale Environment360, 12Apr2013:

          “Forty years after the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), no marine mammal species in U.S. waters has been extirpated and the populations of many marine animals are more abundant than in 1972, a new study says. While many species, including the endangered right whale, remain at significant risk, the populations of other species — including gray seals in New England and sea lions and elephant seals on the Pacific coast — have “recovered to or near their carrying capacity,” scientists say.”

          My guess is that both you and Kleht would read this, point out that gray whales remain endangered, and ignore the progress made by seals, sea lions, and elephant seals.

    2. Don’t look now, but the fuse is already lit. It’s not a question of if, but when.

      What utter nonsense. In case you missed the important point hell_is_like_newark made, I’ll repeat it: None of what you stated above is true.

      Human ingenuity and innovation have provided us with more of almost everything, using fewer resources than ever before. Despite an increasing world population, world food production has increased at an even more rapid pace, so that more people have enough to eat, and fewer go hungry or starve than ever before. In the US there is twice as much forest as there was in the 1950s.

      Water is cleaner, air is cleaner, and as H.I.L.N. pointed out, there are more wild animals than there were 100 years ago.

      You might consider abandoning that old worn out narrative, as it no longer applies. Take a new look around. You will find that as populations become wealthier, they produce more with less, have fewer children, and have the luxury of concern for their environment, unlike people who must spend most of their time just surviving.

      1. Methinks

        But…running around screaming “OMG OMG OMG we’re all gonna DIE!” is so much fun. Apparently.

        1. But…running around screaming “OMG OMG OMG we’re all gonna DIE!” is so much fun. Apparently.

          Yes, and our masters love the opportunities to save us from imaginary disaster.

    3. morganovich


      2.5 and dropping is not a bomb. 2.1-2.2 is needed just to keep population steady. not all children live to adulthood.

      in much of the developed world, population is already in decline from birthrates.

      japan and the eu are not even close to replacement birthrates.

      the us is at 2.1, which is basically break even if you have good healthcare (it would be too low to break even in, say, most of africa)

      wealth leads to lower birth rates. you get contraception, better healthcare etc.

      at 2.5 you are looking at maybe 15% population growth per generation and dropping. this is not “dramatic”. it’s about as low as the world has seen in the modern age.

  4. Is this a good or bad thing? I’m not sure which way. I think for the US it is a bad thing; dropping US birth rates that is. The US doesn’t seem to have very many economic of physical factors restraining birth rates, at least compared to most places in Europe. Yet our birth rates are only slightly higher than…France?

    I’m not sure I view this in a positive light.

    1. hell_is_like_newark

      The bigger issue is who is NOT having children. The most intelligent and productive people in society are failing to have children. Therefore they are (non) breeding themselves out of existence.

      Not a new issue. Emperor Vespasian of Rome tried offering monetary incentives for the upper classes to have children (it didn’t work).

      Russia is also trying something similar in order to get their non-Muslim population to have kids.

      1. Well, maybe that is not as important in the US. People born to lower-income or less-educated families can still move up the educational and income ladder. It is not as much of a problem as it is n Europe (or Russia, or the Roman Empire), where the class one is born in pretty much determines the class one will die in.

        The interesting this is why in the US it is so low, given that the economic pressures not to have kids are far lower (simply considering that most American live in far larger homes in the suburbs, compared to European apartments, ought to remove a big barrier to having kids).

        Also, form what I’ve heard, the “ideal” number of kids families in the US want to have is higher than the one they end up having. Why? What is stopping them? Is it just psychological…or am I missing something?

        Either way, I can’t think that diminishing birth rates are a good thing in the US.

        1. Also, form what I’ve heard, the “ideal” number of kids families in the US want to have is higher than the one they end up having. Why? What is stopping them? Is it just psychological…or am I missing something?

          It may be related to the recent post here at CD about more women getting college degrees. Assuming they plan careers that use those expensive educations, the opportunity cost of having children becomes higher.

          In general, it seems that birth rate inversely correlates to GDP per capita for developed countries.

        2. John Dewey

          AIG: “People born to lower-income or less-educated families can still move up the educational and income ladder. ”

          Perhaps. But Thomas Sowell researched the declining birth rates of middle class African Americans years ago, as well as the relative probabilities of income advancement for children born to lower income and middle come families. As I remember it, Sowell concluded that until middle class blacks started reproducing themselves, the prospects for African Americans overall were not that good. I think the same is likely true for Hispanics as well.

  5. well.. it did not happen by accident, right? So what polilcies resulted in it happening?

    Much of the world except for Africa did “something” to make it happen and why did that take that action?

    it was not on a whim, right?

    it will still take decades to level off population growth.

    1. morganovich

      why does this have to be policy?

      it’s mostly just response to incentives. kids are expensive, more people want careers, children are more likely to survive so you have fewer, the manual labor of kids is less needed etc.

      wealthier places have fewer kids.

      even just electrification which lets people sty up later results in fewer kids as there is somehting else to do at night. tv, same thing.

      it’s not a policy, it’s just emergent behavior.

      just because something is happening all over does not mean it is the result of policy. that’s a deeply flawed assumption.

      1. Well, one COULD assert (and I will) that the government’s policy of taxing people to the point of needing two incomes to maintain middle-class status is a factor in declining birthrates.

        1. morganovich


          fair point, but i do not think the intent was to drive birthrates down.

          this is not happening in a lot of the developing world though, and birthrates are dropping there too, so it would seem not to be the only factor especially as tax rates in the US and eu have not really moved much from 30 years ago while birthrate has plummeted.

  6. So, the Russians should get rid of their TVs? Really?

    1. morganovich


      if there is nothing else to do at night, you get more babies.

      we see this around big power outages in the us all the time.

      whether this is good or bad depends on your goals etc, but the evidence that electricity and tv drop birthrates is pretty compelling.

      1. Iggy Dalrymple

        Maybe Utah power grid will be sabotaged by Mormon terrorists.

  7. Just for some facts from the UN population projection
    The projection for 2050 is now 8.92 billion in 2075 9.22 billion, falling to about 8.87 in 2300. They have a pdf report that can be found by searching for UN population projections. Note that the 2050 projections high case is 10.6 and the low is 7.4. (Given how fast things have changed in places like Iran it is possible the low case is more likley)

    1. charles platt

      UN population prediction are about as useless as Paul Ehrlich predictions. World population consistently turned out to be lower than ALL of the LOWEST estimations by the UN during the 1970s. The drop in birth rates is known as the Demographic Transition. It had already become obvious enough to be given a label as of 15 years ago. Generally, nations in which children are a net benefit (for tilling fields and taking care of their grandparents) still have higher birth rates, while nations in which children are a net burden (because they have to go to school instead of tilling the fields, and they don’t stick around to take care of their grandparents) experience lower birth rates. There’s no need to bring TV into the picture, so far as I can see. It’s just human self-interest, resulting from social transitions from a primitive agrarian culture to one in which children are compulsorily educated and tend to move to cities.

      1. Well expressed!

  8. PeakTrader

    It seems, the U.S. is a leading example of a natural process where an economy expands (for over 200 years), environmental damage reaches a peak (in the 1970s), and the damage is reversed or replaced (since the 1970s), while the economy continues to expand.

    China may be where the U.S. was at the peak of environmental damage; with air, land and water pollution, deforestation, desertification, etc.. However, although China’s per capita real GDP growth has been strong, it began from a very low base and it’s much too low, given the extent of environmental damage.

    1. PeakTrader

      A large part of China has been uninhabitable, for thousands of years. Map:

      1. morganovich

        environment behaves like a luxury good.

        when you are near subsistence level, you do not really care what you do to it (you choose to buy little).

        past a certain point of wealth, you begin to consume it disproportionately.

  9. Why did you design your graph to be intentionally misleading?

    2 is close enough to 0 that you could have based the bottom of the Y-axis there, and it would have correctly depicted the relative decline of the fertility rate — which I’d like to point out is THE ENTIRE POINT OF USING A GRAPH.

    Instead you have a graph that makes it look like the rate has dropped by approximately a factor of 5, rather than the slightly-less-than-halving that is actually the case.

    One look at the graph and it was clear that there was no point reading the article — any pretense of intellectual honesty was already out the window.

    1. I very much appreciate the updated graph and the personal note.

      My assumption of intellectual dishonesty is obviously not true. Sincere apologies.

  10. People; WAKE UP. This is in fact a fuse already lit.

    What happens when we dont replace ourselves, “one for mum and one for dad”:

    We must keep birth and death rates in finite balance or we end up with problems we have today. That is an aging population on the backs of the young. The baby boomers all move into retirement and we have ABSOLUTELY no way of paying for them. Mothernature is trying to kill off the bloating top heavy aging pop, but they keep using their power and wealth to suck up all the medical talent and resources, marginalising the worker bee.

    The Boomers worker-bee to retirement age ratio was 1:4 in the 1950s. Fastforward today, it is now 1:1. Meaning people can’t afford babies today (Y) because the dependents are too heavy on top (the boomers).

    Most of the western world fertility rate is below 2. This has slowly happend over the last century, with the final curtain call this last five years.

    As a broadbrush view of the planet: We have China’s 1970s one-child policy of which the current generation are slowly clicking on to a ginormous ‘mare of problem they are awakening to as all the parents of one child suddenly calculate with basic primmer math, there is two of them and only one offspring per average family. And the Chinamen realise the pendulum switches at the end portion of their life, when the boomers-approaching-retirement become the ‘Dependents’. I mean, Ding Dong; this is proof that Governments of the day are incapable of thinking ahead to the most basic economical principles. Japan, the worst aging pop, has more diaper sales for elderly then babies. I’m not surprised that Tsunami came and wiped them out if Karma has anything to do with it. Most of Europe has a shocking fertility rate of 1.2-1.4. Spain, Poland, Germany; the governments are trying to incentivise with baby giftpacks of baby jumpers and booties “Love from the Government”. And trying hard to rebrand babies as “desirable”. But most Gen Ys are too busy finding jobs, ways to eat and pay rent in their pillaged generation, then even conceive caring for a dependent baby. Men are petrified of the responsibility of a woman and child and mortgage. And a woman cant fathom both working a stressful job to pay that mortgage and raising a family. This is an average critical mass viewpoint of the fertile Y’s now.

    As for States, Britain, Aussie – they all have a borderline replacement fertility rate, but a lot of this has been masked by immigration, which too is dramatically slowing. So the poor people have more babies but the educated white working class buy smart phones and ipads instead.


    Exactly what the article says, overpopulation. No ones is focusing on underpopulation. It’s a deception. What happens when we dont REPLENISH the population. Keep the deaths on the way out, matched with the births on the way in.

    What we have now, in metaphor is like a swimming pool, filled up to 7billion people. And we have turned the tap to Zion off coming in. And there is no new flow or current going into the pool. So now algae and mould is growing in the stagant Swiming Pool. That is a metaphor for all of the worlds problems and evils. Babies keep things innocent and are conducive to being positive about the future. That of which entirely lacks in economical temperament (GCF) and green sustainability issies: Why would the trees grow if there is no one to sing to.

    In terms of how this has happend:
    • 1 BILLION abortions (more than ww1/ww2 put together)
    Culling of babies at one end of the Tree of life and not balancing this with the opposing end. Leaving an aging population burden.
    • FRUITLESS homo-sexual and hetero-sexual relationships that age yet do not restock the human population in replacement, nor are they taxed more. It’s culturally acceptable and not a “human right violation” to replace our selves. We just suck time and resource from the earth without giving back. And that is A ok.
    • CONTRACEPTION reduces the rate and qty of babies. Trickster one that one.
    • BREAK DOWN IN MARRIAGE low marriage rate just like low fertility rate.

    Not exactly the stable social fabric you want to breed or retire on. Total and utter break down in the worlds bread and butter Nuclear Family.

    With the above, not getting all religious but, you can almost see why a central tenet of many spiritualities’ teaching is pro-family, and against abortion, contraception, homo-sexuality and those modern things that have snuck their deceptive ways into our culture in the last century and pulled the wool over our eyes. But when you look at things in terms of balances of the Ages and that talk of “The End of an Age”, you can kind of see what those Old Religious Boys were getting at when they warned us of these spiritual laws, unwavering throughout the passage of time. Makes sense mathmatematically-speaking.

    Wakey wakey.

    1. So, i have to make babies so coca cola could make bigger profits? i dont believe so, i would like population somewhere in 2 billion. not more. it would be better for my one child to live in the world where nature is everywhere not in some park next to some metropol. well, if i decide do even one, not sure though

      1. Ok maybe you can be one of the dead ones.

  11. Population growth has slowed down way too little, way too late. The world is already vastly overpopulated with 7 billion people. Three billion already live in extreme poverty and most of the future billions will fall in that category. Sure growth has slowed some but it is still growing very fast from a historic perspective. Its like an over loaded dump truck speeding through a school zone at 120 miles per hour, then slowing down to 80 MPH. “See its not speeding any more.”

  12. The downward trend in fertility was already predicted by the demographers and inevitably leads to the end of mankind. We are an old species that is about to die. A species ages when its population pyramid overturns and it has little genetic diversity. That’s where humans are now.

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