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

98 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!






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.

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.


.

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.

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.

StevenEarlSalmony
StevenEarlSalmony

All of us have heard what is reported by Jeff Wise many times before.The entire presentation is not based upon science.The demographic transition is bereft of a scientific foundation. Demographers and economists are not scientists.What has been foisted upon us yet again, things I have heard and taken for granted by many too many during my lifetime, appears to be ideologically-driven, politically convenient, economically expedient, religiously tolerable, socially correct and culturally contrived (or prescribed, if you like).The 'whole picture' is based upon pseudoscientific assumptions that regard human beings as essentially different from in the sense of being exceptional when compared with other creatures of the Earth.Rather than embracing human creatureliness and what were are, based upon the best available science, essential aspects of what it is to be human are everywhere ignored and denied.We are told instead that we are 'a little lower than angels' in the world; that we can do things no creature of Earth can possibly do...for very long, much less indefinitely.Past successes do not guarantee the future of any species.We have to see more realistically and accept our creatureliness more completely as we are, according to the science and the lights we possess.We are not angels anymore than the deluded narcissists who rule the world in our time are masters of the universe. 

MotherEarth
MotherEarth

China, India and Africa breed high birth rate which is cause many disadvantages etc.. they will lose foods resources and they have to migration for foods. They are responsible for create more civilization which is cause environment disaster. World Population in 1950 was 2.5 billion human living on the planet and we create 4.5 billion human living over last 50 years this demographic transition. Its time to change this problem... IN EVERY SINGLE COUNTRIES MUST HAVE ONE CHILD POLICY.

Beware Global Warming, Climate change and Sea water rise mean less foods and less land mass.

I find this article obviously disgraceful to not care about environmentally. Mother Earth is angry and create more natural disaster.

SamuelAdams
SamuelAdams

Oh, please.  India is SEETHING with overpopulation.  Whole swathes of people are starving and face famine and disease and we do absolutely NOTHING to help them - we just let them (and ourselves) procreate more and more and more.


It's insane!  What's worse - is if you calmly and rationally bring up salient facts - you're told "You just hate children!" and are labeled as some type of monster!

SPONSOR-A-STARVING CHILD!  How about we sponsor the sterilization of parents who can't afford to feed themselves but still insist on popping out child after child after child?  They're ONLY GOING TO DIE OF STARVATION ANYWAY!


It's sick.  It's the height of selfishness.  "It's my right to have as many children as I want!"  It's also our right to try and SHAME you into stop being such a selfish c*nt.

franciskelly6
franciskelly6

The earth is 16 billion years old.  Within my lifetime, the population has TRIPLED.  This whole article is poorly thought out, irresponsible, and insult to American journalism and meretricious on its merits.

wrongpassport
wrongpassport

It is very sloppy journalism to title "population may be declining" while the article states that in the future, "within our lifetimes", population may decline. There's a clear factual difference between something is happening now, and something is expected to happen within the next 50 years.

sak1234567890
sak1234567890

may be the population is declining as a result of cannibalism :)

rjwalker
rjwalker

I understand the appeal of “man bites dog” story lines, but world population is neither declining, nor about to decline.While a dozen or so countries have declining populations and a dozen or more may soon have declining population, world population continues to grow with no end in sight.The latest UN projections, issued in 2011, suggest that world population could keep on growing until the end of this century and beyond.The UN’s “medium variant” has world population, currently about 7.1 billion, rising to 10 billion by 2081 and continuing to inch up until the end of the century.If fertility rates are even half-a-child higher than the assumptions that underlie the medium variant, world population could soar to 15 billion by the end of the century.That does not sound like world population is on the verge of decline.

So where do these “world population now declining” stories, like this one, come from?Good question.Not from demographers.Maybe the authors want to wish away the challenges posed by a growing world population.Don’t we all.The truth is, however, that population growth in recent years has been outpacing world food production, and that humanity is putting excessive demands on the planet. By some estimates, we will need two planets by 2030 to sustain us.Leading scientists warn that we are exceeding “planetary boundaries” in several areas, not just with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. Our children’s future is imperiled by environmental degradation and our overuse of scarce resources.

Someday a declining world population may help us to bring humanity into better balance with nature, but that day is still a long way away.

Mr86
Mr86

but i pretty much will eat anything

Mr86
Mr86

well i kind of like CHINESE food

anomicofficedrone
anomicofficedrone

Statistically speaking, educated people have fewer children.  Educate the world and you'll achieve two things: healthy population decline and a population with the tools to solve our problems.

AmyPhillipsBursch
AmyPhillipsBursch

First of all, population growth is slowing -- in some places. It's not in others. This is simply untrue: "the world’s population isn’t growing nearly as fast as it once did." Growth over the past two 12-year periods has been even, and that was the fastest growth ever recorded.

Wise's piece was based on one projection. Other projections by the United Nations show we could hit nearly 11 billion people by 2050. 

Yes, the United States' birthrate has fallen, but it's likely to pick back up once the economy strengthens.

-- Amy Phillips Bursch, media relations manager, Population Connection

AndyRamsay
AndyRamsay

Pretty soon when the oil starts to dry up I'd be willing to guess 4 or 5 billion of them will die off in a mater of months. Westernized civilizations will fall the fastest once transport can't deliver any food.

kleeneth1
kleeneth1

Malthus also saw war and disease as a "positive checks" on population growth.

PaulMarion
PaulMarion

It is no coincidence that as population rates decline so does the economic growth. An economy needs growing markets to stay healthy.

NamecNassianer
NamecNassianer

This little blue planet suffers from overcrowding, and this flippant article about a serious problem does nothing to emphasize the gravity of the situation.

Nor does the grammar: "in a Chinese maternity ward, where parents are restricted to having only one child."

So... how many children can parents have outside the Chinese maternity ward?






syndromezed
syndromezed

Just leaves more food for the zombies....love the "no sign of land" sketch too btw. :)