Thoughts on the Non-Issue of Overpopulation

A post from the author of the Finnish language book Evolving Humanity: "The replenishment rate required to keep a population stable is about 2.1 children per woman. The average fertility rate in a lot of industrialized countries is well below this - for instance, 1.58 in Canada, 1.42 in Germany, 1.32 in Italy, 1.20 in Japan and 1.04 in Hong Kong. The EU average is 1.51. Yes, in a lot of poor countries the figures are considerably higher - Niger tops the chart with 7.68 children per woman - but even then the overall world population growth is projected to start declining around 2050 or so. To give a sense of proportion: suppose that tomorrow, we developed literal immortality and made it instantly available for everyone, so that the death rate would drop to zero in a day, with no adjustment to the birth rate. Even if this completely unrealistic scenario were to take place, the overall US population growth would still only be about half of what it was during the height of the 1950s baby boom! Even in such a completely, utterly unrealistic scenario, it would still take around 53 years for the US population to double - assuming no compensating drop in birth rates in that whole time. We've adapted to increasing lifespans before. Between 1950 and 1990, the percentage of population over 65 almost doubled in Sweden, going from 10.3 to 18.1. (In the United Kingdom it went up from 10.7 to 15.2, in the US from 8.1 to 12.6, and in the more-developed countries overall it went from 7.6 to 12.1.) The beauty of economics is that like all resource consumption, having children is a self-regulating mechanism: if a growing population really does exert a heavy strain on resources, then it will become more expensive to have children, and people will have less of them. ... I see no reason to presume that radical life extension and indefinite youths would pose us any problems that we couldn't handle, at least not on the overpopulation front." You might also look at the demographic models mentioned in the Fight Aging! archives.



Allrighty, but what if people were ten times wealthier than today on average a century from now? Maybe having kids will be more affordable when walmart is available through download? When that happens most designs will be free.

My point is that if the future of people is to become richer, than having kids won't be a burden at all whereas today its a major financial decision. This is just a projection is demographic data

Posted by: Matthew Fuller at January 24th, 2011 8:00 AM

People have fewer kids also because they have other life-style options. As we become wealthier, life style options will increase as well. It isn't just about the money.

Besides, we aren't going to be ten times richer a century from now. People in Sub-Saharan Africa will be ten times richer than they are now. But people in the West or East Asia will not.

Posted by: kurt9 at January 24th, 2011 9:27 AM

Kurt9, what matters is the fact that people in poverty and other rising nations (like the BRIC) countries and China will may be even wealthier on average than we are today. IF you were making 100k per year, how much of a problem is having 3 kids?

Whether that will happen, and what money means given nanotechnology...its all just speculation. I am not worried because its too speculative.

Posted by: Matthew Fuller at January 24th, 2011 12:28 PM

I think the problem in the future may well be too few people not too many. (Not that I support having large families) Birthrates have been falling SO dramatically the last few decades. What's kind of interesting is that the UN's World Population in 2300 Report (one created by some of the best demographic experts around) is one of the few projections I've seen that takes into account longevity science by assuming that after 2050 life expectancy will continue to rise indefinitely, and even taking that into account it still predicts world population will peak in a few decades around 7-10 billion people, then fall and not rise above that peak amount again until centuries later.

Posted by: Kim at January 25th, 2011 12:55 AM

Yeah, a bit off on a tangent, but actually I've been of the mind that "R" in BRIC is just a kind of courtesy and used to make the acronym look nice. Russia has pretty severe socio-economic problems and in the next two or three decades might be riding the road to Nowhereville. I'm from Poland and have been doing some bussiness there for the last 4 years, Moscow and Petersburg are all fine and dandy, but the province not so much - cops and mafia are pretty buddy buddy down there, impossible to do serious deals if you don't pay the man, and the cousin of his cousin ; the Far East will be de facto Chinese in some time to come and the know it too.

Posted by: Lost Sheperd at January 25th, 2011 2:36 AM

About a year and a half ago Science Daily noted that overpopulation was the biggest threat to our world. Global warming was second. Obviously overpopulation increases the use of the irreplaceable natural resources; increases the waste and pollutants that affect our air, water and land; reduces the amount of water for drinking and farming; reduces the amount of arable land available for each person; increases famines and poverty; and increases illegal immigration to escape these problems. Uninformed people criticize Malthus, but what he said is true. His Britain is a net importer of food today. For skeptics, rather than saying that the facts are not true and hoping you are right, it would be wise to look at the evidence and criticize it with evidence rather than with hope. I suggest that you read Book 1, especially the sections on skeptics, in "In Search of Utopia" at It is authoritative, documented, and free.
And relative to the 2.1 replacement rate cited, that was true in the 1940s when it was proposed. But what are longer lifespans a couple producing two children is highly likely to be living with their children, grandchildren and possibly great-grandchildren. So the world would have three or more times the number of bodies as was suggested with the 2.1 fertility rate.

Posted by: ProfBob at May 8th, 2011 6:27 AM

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