October 26, 2011 (Pop.org) - In the run up to its ominously entitled “Day of Seven Billion,” the United Nations Population Fund has released a preview of its State of World Population Report 2011.
The preview opens with a graph of population over time that seems to show the world’s population climbing ever higher in the decades to come. In fact, the scaling suggests to the eye that the number of people will more than double by century’s end.
The trouble with this graph is that it is, to put it bluntly, an absolute fabrication. It is designed, I believe, to create the impression that human numbers are spinning out of control. It is a population bomb graph, if you will.
No demographer that I know of believes that our numbers will ever double again.
In fact, not even the demographers at the UNFPA’s sister agency, the U.N. Population Division, believe it. Their favored graph looks like this:
This projection shows the world’s population peaking at 10 billion by the last decades of the 21st century, not steadily climbing to 13 billion and beyond.
While this is an improvement over the UNFPA’s population bomb graph, even this graph significantly overstates future numbers. It does so because the people counters at the UN Population Division assume that fertility rates in dying countries will somehow surge to 2.1 children per woman.
Now why would aging and dying populations (e.g., the Russians, the Italians, the Japanese, etc.) suddenly start having exactly the number of children necessary to replace themselves. The UN Population Division does not say.
Perhaps — I can only speculate — its demographers assume that governments will put in place generous child allowances. But many countries already have such allowances, and these have had only a modest effect on fertility. Russia’s $13,500 baby bonus, for example, has only increased the birth rate by 8 percent, too small a percentage to offset Russia’s population decline.
In all probability, the future of humanity looks more like the UN Population Division’s “low variant” projection.
This shows population peaking around 2040 at 8 and a half billion or so, and then beginning to decline. It assumes that birthrates, which have been steadily falling for a century now, will continue to fall. What could be more reasonable?
The UNFPA can draw all the scary graphs it wants, but our long-term problem is not going to be too many people, it is going to be too few people: Too few people to start businesses and families, too few people to drive the economy forward, too few people to provide for the future.
Our current economic chill is just the beginning of a long demographic winter that will soon have much of the world in its deadly grip.
Reprinted from Pop.org with the generous permission of the Population Research Institute.