Overcrowding? Nah — the World’s Population May Actually Be Declining

The world's population isn't growing nearly as fast as it once did. In fact, experts say the number of humans could fall within our lifetimes.

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(KEREN SU / GETTY IMAGES)

Newborns nestle together in a maternity ward in China, where parents are restricted to having only one child

In the 1973 movie Soylent Green, the world had turned (spoiler alert!) to cannibalism to feed its billions of unwashed masses by 2022. But nine years before that milestone, it looks as if the world’s population could actually be starting to decline.

The number of people on the planet has grown exponentially in the past half-century alone, from 2.5 billion in 1950 to an estimated 7 billion in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The world’s 7 billionth person, born sometime last March, elicited concern that we would run out of food and resources for everyone. An ever updating Census Bureau population clock shows the numbers rising.

People have worried about this since at least the 18th century, when British political economist Thomas Malthus first theorized that unchecked population growth would ultimately lead to starvation. China, so concerned about the drain of overpopulation on its resources, instituted a one-child policy in 1979, imposing heavy fines on parents who go over the limit.

But it turns out the world’s population isn’t growing nearly as fast as it once did. In fact, experts say the rate of population growth will continue to slow and that the total population will eventually — likely within our lifetimes — fall.

(LIST: TIME Special Report: The World at 7 Billion)

This isn’t news for two of the world’s most populous countries, Japan and Russia, which as TIME reported in 2011 are both facing rapidly declining birthrates. In general, developed countries where more women have the means for financial independence and motherhood isn’t a given are facing much slower rates of population growth. Many Western European countries have birthrates below the population-replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman: Spain and Italy are tied at 1.4; Holland and Belgium, 1.8; and Germany is at 1.36.

The U.S. has seemingly been immune to the declining-birthrate trend. But in 2011, the Pew Research Center found that the birthrate in the U.S. reached its lowest point ever recorded: 63.2 children per 1,000 women of childbearing age.

In Slate, Jeff Wise reports that the babymaking slowdown is due to “demographic transition” — basically, the phenomenon whereby humans, long used to having large families to cope with the society-decimating consequences of famine, war and disease, begin to rein in childbirth as these threats dissipate. Warren Sanderson, a professor of economics at Stony Brook University, explained it to Wise as “a shift between two very different long-run states: from high death rates and high birthrates to low death rates and low birthrates.”

Looks as if we may not have to eat one another after all.

MOREWhy Declining Birthrates Are Good for the Planet

94 comments
diligentdave
diligentdave

Slow. That is the word I would use to describe most people who read this article in TIME, given the comments of those literate enough to do that. Do you people even realize what the 2011 birthrate means? "The U.S. has seemingly been immune to the declining-birthrate trend. But in 2011, the Pew Research Center found that the birthrate in the U.S. reached its lowest point ever recorded: 63.2 children per 1,000 women of childbearing age."

Get a calculator, or do some long division on paper with a pencil. 63.2 children per 1,000 women OF CHILDBEARING AGE is 1000 / 63.2 = 15.82 means that, on average, women who WERE of childbearing age were (are) having children at the rate of having JUST ONE CHILD EVERY 15.82 YEARS. This is just shy of 1 child born per woman every 16 years. This means if a woman's childbearing years are basically age 15 to age 40, there will be only 158 babies born for every 200 adults, where 211 are needed for every 200 adults (at our current death rates) JUST TO REPLACE THE PREVIOUS GENERATION.

Folks, it is the current HIGHER sub-replacement birthrates in the world that has and is causing the current GROWING WORLDWIDE ECONOMIC DEPRESSION ! ! ! There are principals, like gravity, that human opinion have zero effect upon. Everyone in the world could think that somehow they can live one way, and still skirt around the laws of nature, or I would rather say, of nature's God. However, it is abundantly clear, and should be to any human being with a "thinker", who uses it for more than grazing and groveling, to begin to comprehend these things. But people suppose that their opinion is so powerful, that if they think things should be a certain way, that if enough of them agree upon their shared fantasy, that it will somehow come true. 

Well, folks, all I can say is, "Dream on!" No. It ultimately makes no difference what you agree upon. A carload of teenagers may think that driving into a concrete wall at 70 miles an hour will have no adverse effect upon them. But, their opinion is worth squat in this case. The concrete wall will prevail, though it has no more intelligence than a brick. And the combined opinion of those teenagers will not change the nature of them hurling themselves against materials that hold no opinion whatsoever. Still, the concrete wall will now, and forever, prevail.

In the 8th century B.C., a man, Isaiah, spoke of our day. How could he know, way back then, what would happen in our day? God, who knows the end from the beginning, showed Isaiah our time. No one can know the future, you may think and even say. But, if no one can know the future, why do scientists always try to predict what will happen under certain circumstances? Anyway, here is, in part, what Isaiah said—

"...the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid."     — Isaiah 29:14

Certainly, in the area of human self-reproduction, the "wisdom of the wise" has perished. Those who for so long have advocated birth control are being proven idiots on a daily basis. It doesn't matter that those human beings who have advocated such don't know it themselves. They're no smarter than the concrete wall humanity is collectively colliding against. You could say, they're as "thick as a brick!" And apparently, most of you who read this article, even those of you who have commented here, can't think yourself out of a box. What a fix you're in. What a fix WE ARE ALL IN!






slash094
slash094

I think it's important for people and governments of the world to change their fiscal and social policies to compensate this drop in birth rates rather than relying on immigration. We don't need to ethnically erase peoples and cultures of the world, we just have to adabt to a changing environment. That's all.

I beg people to have some compassion for the ethnic identities of the world and not succumb to the notion that mass immigration is the answer when really it's only a greedy and lazy approach to adaptation to the current demographic situation.

Thank you.

TeriWolfe
TeriWolfe

1. Artificial contraception is spreading among U.S. conservative Protestant women ... just, slower than the general population ... but catching up.

2. Climate Change can be reasonably expected to bring, let us say, conditions seriously threatening current human population levels worldwide, even this century.

3. So can a number of other ongoing problems such as fisheries collapse, Peak Hydrocarbons, shifting magnetic field, "water the new oil," coarsening social safety nets, LDC mass dirty industrialization, bio research/accidents and weaponization, etc.

We're eating each other ... just metaphorically sted literally. God have mercy on us all.

MargaritaMichelleCruzMartínez
MargaritaMichelleCruzMartínez

Pues la verdad espero y sea cierto porque ya somos bastantes como para que sigamos pensando en tener mas de un hijo, quizas a ustedes les parece que esta muy bien porque tienen que comer, etc pero no se dan cuenta del ENORME HERIDA que se le hace al mundo solo por capricho de la humanidad.    Cuantas personas (de todas las edades) mueren de hambre, enfermedades que si tienen cura pero que por desconocimiento en cuanto a la alimentacion y por ambicion del sistema, mueren o agonizan lentamente.

Nos estamos acabando al mundo y de paso estamos exterminando a seres inocentes a nuestro paso, eso no es justo.

Acaso no les importa el amor y la justicia?    Porque tienen que estar solo viendo la cuestion personal y no darse cuenta de que sin los demas no somos nada (Naturaleza, animales y humanos)?

Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf

Why the birthrate of European countries and the US is given in a different unit of measurement?

vader101254
vader101254

People making mountains out of mole hills is exactly why nothing changes. How many times have we heard about the "end of the world"?? The majority don't listen anymore. The famous computer bug of 2000 was another made up catastrophy. The original computer programs only contained 2 digits for the year and 4 would be needed for the turn of the century. No one knew for sure how computers would react to the change and things were blown out of proportion. Ever heard of the chidhood story of "The boy who cried wolf" No one listened after. Stop trying to scare everone into changing things. History proves that any changes made in a "knee jerk " manner never remain. This is a tactic that many parents use on their children to regain control and it doesn't work there either. And using the reverse statement doesn't work either. "No one is doing anything to change" Nonsense!! There are many who refuse to change(to damn stubborn or stupid) but there is also many who are trying to improve things. Tell people the truth and enlist their co-operation and most of all be patient. A slow steady improvement will become a  lasting improvement. Insulting or trying to embarass people is a negative option. Have we not learned that adversarial conditions cause resentment and anger. Positive actions will breed positive results.   

petersdraggon
petersdraggon

I noticed they didn't touch on the predominantly Catholic Latin American countries and peoples that have huge families.

vader101254
vader101254

I don't understand why words have to be twisted??? The article says "may be declining due to  the continued decline in the global birthrate" The article is pointing out that the future birthrate will be less than the rate of deaths and therefore the population will start to decline, sounds very plausible to me. Of course everyone may not remember or know that 40 years ago the "Chicken Littles'"were predicting 10 billion by 2000 and 15 billion by 2025. What some people will do for their 15 minutes!!!  We don't need any more "Michael Moores" to tell us only what they want us to hear and trying to scare us with their predictions. By "Making a mountain out of a mole hill" we are wasting valuable time and energy that could be doing something positive.  

gracechiou88
gracechiou88

Taiwan's fertility rate was 0.89 in 2010, the lowest in the world.  People blamed poor economic performance and unusually low monthly salary for their reluctance to bear children.  Luckily through serious government efforts Taiwan's newborn rate jumped to 1.2 in 2012.  Taking into account the global picture, I still think a restrained population growth would vastly benefit the human race's survival. 

TallGuy
TallGuy

Wow, this author actually tries to validate "population decline" by pointing out that "the world’s population isn't growing nearly as fast as it once did". That's kind of like Congress saying they're making progress on the US deficit because the government spending isn't increasing as fast as it has in the past. 

bj11b0311
bj11b0311

Nature will correct, time for another World War or a major pandemic. Just think how many people there would be without the wars and pandemics of the 20th century. We are our only natural predator.

US1776
US1776

We're already a couple billion past overcrowded.

We'll need to decline for quite a while.


.

babooph
babooph

Good news,too bad it is the result of greed & not being sensible..

melonheadx13
melonheadx13

i look at it this way--when i was born the TOTAL population on earth was about what the combined population of india and china now.  that would have left the rest of the earth empty of people, just to put it in terms someone could imagine.

andmigmin
andmigmin

How did this person gain employment as a journalist? She doesn't understand the word "decline" or the rudiments of math. And  who was the bigger idiot that allowed it to be posted?

mawayne638
mawayne638

Another strangley stupid article. Humans are overbreeding like insects,

and posting junk like this 'article' only makes things worse.

robert.bruce.parsons
robert.bruce.parsons

What will be the result.  Google "would you buy that for a quarter?"  One science fiction writer had it figured out nearly 60 years ago.

rwt02004
rwt02004

This is a foolish article.  Rate may be declining (in some countries) but we will likely reach a "tipping point" before population growth slows enough to prevent it.  Some argue (citing environmental degradation impacts that lag behind the actual actions) that we have already reached this point.

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

Spoiler alert for a 40-year-old flick? LOL

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

"Overcrowding? Nah — the World’s Population MAY [capitalization added] Actually Be Declining"

The media drumbeat never stops. The names of the deniers just keep changing. 


LuisCarlosZardo
LuisCarlosZardo

The rate of increase may be slowing, it´s correct, but in raw numbers our population is increasing at least the same as the last decade, almost 80 million people a year.

Almost a population the size of Germany each year.

Comsumption, yes, the west consumes more resources than less developed countries, but comsumption alone is not the same as environmental impact.


Nigerians that consume almost nothing are causing entire forests to disappear just because they are cutting trees to use as firewood.

Haiti is a complete environmental disaster and there´s not any "consumption"


You can blame on consumption as much as you want, but you cannot disconnect population growth as the main cause of all our environmental problems.





sverry7
sverry7

Here's a thought for devoted Malthusians to consider. The West, with 1/4 of the world's population consumes 70% percent of it's natural resources. So, instead of directing your tirades against struggling peoples in developing nations, why not advocate a lifestyle based on human equity rather than mass consumption? 

adnan7631
adnan7631

Dear Ms. Nelson

Don't use misleading titles. They make us hate you

Sincerely, 

Time.com's readers. 

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

As I recall the underlying explanation for the conditions in SoyLent Green related more to the destruction of resources and the pollution of the Oceans than it did directly to Overpopulation.

The problem is really, not about future increases in population but the damage being done to our planet right now by what is already gross overpopulation compounded by over exploitation of the Earths resources even beyond the pressures of that over population.

We humans have shown no restraint or control at all in managing ourselves or our planet for our own long term survival and have quite possibly already damaged it's support mechanisms so severely that the out come of the movie SoyLent Green is already a foregone conclusion for us.

Judging by the Fires in Australia resulting from continuous 130 degree heat, quite possibly sooner rather than later.

Of course, that could just be a fluke.

dan.tohatan
dan.tohatan

@diligentdave We struggled 5000+ years to get here, to understand how short and fragile life can be. I just wanna ride. My reasoning is flawed, and I'm still staring at the concrete wall.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@vader101254 Ditto what Dewey wrote.  And another example.  Do you remember back in the '80s and '90s how acid rain was the "end of the world" problem, and then the ozone hole?  Why aren't they still the big "end of the world" scenario now?

Because we FIXED them, that's why.  We recognized a serious problem, publicized it, and figured out how to correct it.  Just like the Y2K bug.  And quite possibly, just like over-population and (I sincerely hope, as a scientist) dealing with man-caused climate change.

So yes, by publicizing a real-world problem, you will always anger and upset some people, and frighten others.  But if that's the cost of FIXING the problem, then it's well worth paying.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@vader101254 Just as a little side note since you used it as an example, the Y2K "bug" was very real and DID actually effect many systems.  It was the efforts in the few years prior to Y2K to fix the "bug" (it wasn't a bug to begin with, but the financial necessities of programming when memory was a million dollars per megabyte) that made the "event" a lot less dire than the predictions blown out of proportion by the media had indicated.  Computer experts were actually VERY aware of how various systems would react to what amounted to a "rollback:" in time (since they could do it manually and see what the system did!).  So they focused on keeping essential systems running by re-writing code and updating it before the deadline.

That nothing of great note happened was less of a matter of over-hyped news than it was of a massive effort on the part of code-writers and programmers to fix what would otherwise have been a catastrophic crash of most of the world's computer networks.

Which, of course, is a point to note that you did include in an indirect fashion: When people know disaster is coming, they USUALLY do something about trying to prevent it or to mitigate its effects.  Whether positively or negatively presented, people will usually react if they believe there is a danger to them.  One can calmly and rationally sit people down and tell them the world will get hotter (as an example) if they keep using coal or gas or some other carbon-emitting substance, but they don't see the danger in that.  So what if a few plants die off or they need to use air conditioning more often?  They see things like the snowstorm that just hit the Northeast and say, "The world is getting hotter?  HAH!"

People don't always believe the truth, you see, no matter what you tell them or how you tell it to them.  People are irrational that way.  So impending disasters are going to be hyped just because it's hard to get most people's attention about the disaster in the first place.  Insulting people or being positive doesn't really matter in the long run.  Hyping it gets the attention it needs.  Those who believe or through hyping it can be made to believe that a disaster is coming (or is already in the making) will do something about it.  Those who don't, won't.

LanceSmith
LanceSmith

@vader101254 perhaps....or perhaps these folks making mountains out of molehills are precisely what IS needed to affect change, and the dire predictions made not so long ago were actually a key influence on why these dire things never came to pass. Just look at the 2000-bug discussions of the late 1990's. The 2000-bug was of little consequence BECAUSE everyone jumped on board in the 1990's and fixed the problem before 2000. 

steel_jo
steel_jo

@gracechiou88 Constant population increase in a closed environment eventually but inevitably leads to humanity eating itself off the planet.

splabman
splabman

@TallGuy Well, no, the increase in population is slowing down. Yes, it's going up, but not at the levels that it once was. Sorta like your car going 65 after passing a State Trooper at 80. You're still speeding, but not at the level that gets you a reckless driving citation.

charlie72865
charlie72865

Yes , you....and I are part of the crowding. You want to get step off?? I dont want to.  Who are we to decide when enough is enough. That is not a decision for any individual or government to decide for the rest of us. The symptoms of poverty and environmental degradation are not because of too many people . They are due to unjust systems of productions and distribution. There is plenty of land  and resources for all of us here to eat  and live very comfortably if there were not such disparities in wealth.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@US1776 Yeah, but it makes sense to get started at it soon, and to do so relatively slowly.  After all, a sudden decrease in population would be a tremendous disaster to society, too.  For example, how would we pay for social security, with only half the young workers compared to their parents' generation?

FrancisReyesOrozco
FrancisReyesOrozco

@andmigmin Excuse me but I think you might have misread. The journalist is stating that the population growth rate is declining, not the population itself. A rate is a percentage. I thought you should know this before you questioned the journalist's qualifications. 

charlie72865
charlie72865

@rwt02004 The growth rate IS declining in most of the world.  And we may have reached a tipping point in terms of global warming. But what evidence is there that we cannot provide food and other resources for the population until an actual population decline occurs (considering current weather patterns, not assuming a total breakdown from global warming)?

splabman
splabman

@UleNotknow How many 18 year olds have seen it? I think the author's tongue-in-cheek humor is part of her appeal. Now get back into your pod. We're going to make you into a fine dish of Kung Pao Ule.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@sverry7 ...You realize that that's precisely what Malthus WAS talking about right?  That while population was increasing "geometrically" (ie: exponentially), resource production (like food) only increased "arithmetically" (ie: near-linearly).

I find it kind of funny that you're accusing "devoted Mathusians" to consider... exactly what Mathus originally proposed.  Maybe you ought to do some historical research yourself?

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

@sverry7 Yeah, let's give food stamps to the world. We do for 45 million of our own population already.

vader101254
vader101254

@JenniferBonin @vader101254 Sorry to be the one to burst your bubble but crystal balls are for trying to tell the future not the past. Why are so many on this site taking comments out of context and not fully understanding comments. I said "all" of the programs needed rewriting not just 1 or 2 your dad rewrote. There was 40+ years of old computer programs for obsolete computer programs for obsolete equipment that was not worth the required cost to rewrite. Some systems were tested with dates accelerated to see how some computers would react and there was no adverse or severe problems but when these results were publicised, the negative ninnies and conspiracy theorists called it government propaganda. The impending disaster was real and coming. The hysteria continued with people buying survival equipment and supplies. If the problem was fixed then why were aircraft grounded and people warned to stay out of elevators?You might want to ask your dad about that or consult news from the day.

As for your reports about acidrain and the ozone, you are decades late. It was the 50's and 60's. And people did not join arm in arm to fix the problem. Chemicals were banned or restricted,laws with large fines were passed. But even today we are stuck with selfish individuals who continue to pollute our planet.

As for my knowledge, I was born in the 50's and I am sure I have children older than you. I was very aware of the 60's,70's,80's,90's and into today. I am an auto technician so I deal with computers daily. I am certified for emissions repairs and the handling of AC refrigerant so I am well aware of pollution issues and the ozone layer.

Also, I have no problem with the publicising of issues, only the unnecessary, dangerous and negative overhyping (lying about) of our problems. 

It is great to have an opinion but show more respect for yourself and your reputation by basing it on facts, not supposition and inuendos. 

vader101254
vader101254

There was no "Bug". It was only a name given to a possible problem. You ask about my proof? All of the computer programs were not rewritten and there was none of the spectacular breakdowns in our society that were wrongly predicted. You show me any evidence that anything happened.

 My whole point here is to not make things up, don"t hype things for your own agenda. Please explain to me how speaking the truth is not the right way to handle things. Your parents were supposed to teach you that lies will come back to bite you in the ass.

Misguided parents and religions use these scare tactics to brainwash people.

A true leader will inspire people to change or follow the right path.

Dishonest people will brainwash sheep into only doing what they are told. Research Hitler, Charles Manson,etc.

vader101254
vader101254

They fixed the 2000 bug??? Is this revisionist history??? They did not fix anything. They let it ride!! They could have fixed the problem by rewriting all the computer programs and added 2 more digits but that would have cost way more than they were prepared to spend when no one could guarantee what would happen.  Has all the changes made after 911 really fixed anything??  We had 2 world wars and changes were made but have wars disappeared?? We have pictures on cigarett packages, is it really stopping people from smoking?? We have lots of laws about killing people, hows that working out??? 35 years ago I put 4 snow tires on my car to see how it would work and I have used them ever since. Been laughed at for doing it. Told people how much better it was. Did not matter, if they did not want to listen then they didn't. Today a high percentage of people now have 4 snow tires. I have noticed that many fathers who were dead set against 4 snow tires had a change of action when it came to equiping their childrens cars. Their love of their children overcame their stubborness. Now as those children grow 4 snow tires become the standard. True change happens at the "Grass roots level" of society, people start "taking Care of their own backyard" and it takes time and something else that many humans refuse to enlist..........Patience. 

charlie72865
charlie72865

@splabman @TallGuy Furthemore, at a certain point, all growth stops! You cannot replace populations with a less than replacement ratio.  The only reason the planet as a whole continues to grow in population is because of the absolute number of people. But if they do not have replacement level birth rates eventually even this growth will cease!

sverry7
sverry7

@JenniferBonin @sverry7 Your response is a glib dodge of the issue raised in my post, which had to do with curbing mindless consumption. In my turn then, I find it kind of funny that people who still argue for Malthus and his "positive checks" on population growth, hunger, disease and war, with breathtaking presumption see these checks applying to other countries, while they themselves propose to sip champagne on the    top of this imaginary Darwinian pyramid.          

melonheadx13
melonheadx13

@UleNotknow @sverry7 the 45 million you speak of have "earned" food stamps by being driven into poverty or are unemployed or old or because they qualify for some other reason.

and guess what, about half the people who qualify for food stamps do not apply for them.  is that out of shame, pride or ignorance, ignorance same as yours no doubt.

texrat
texrat

@vader101254 Y2K problems were greatly mitigated BECAUSE code WAS fixed.  Every programmer who was around at the time can verify this for you.  Y2K was not overhyped; had code not been updated, there would indeed have been disaster.  Your failure to understand that changes nothing.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@vader101254 "They could have fixed the problem by rewriting all the computer programs and added 2 more digit"

...Uh, Vader, that's EXACTLY WHAT THEY DID. 

You're obviously not very knowledgeable on the subject, so why not trust someone who does scientific programming on a daily basis and has a father who actually MADE the 2000-bug changes at his state electric company job at the time?  In today's world, computerized dates are four-digits long.  Before about 1990, they typically weren't -- but that made sense at the time, too, given the practical constraints in memory size and processing speed.  By 1990-ish, lots of programmers realized the problem in advance and set about fixing it.  And, overall, succeeded.