6 myths associated with the growth of the world population


Demographer Philip Longman debunks some common myths associated with the inevitable increase in the number of people living on Earth.

Myth number 1: The world faces population explosion

Yes, but the reason for that — the elderly. More recently, we have been warned that the growth of the world population will inevitably lead to famine throughout the world. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich (1) wrote in his apocalyptic best-seller "The Population Bomb": "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will die from hunger. Nothing can prevent a substantial increase in mortality in the world. " In an obvious way, Ehrlich predicted disaster, which was based on the hypothesis that the baby boom of the 1960s will continue as long as the world does not face mass starvation did not happen. Now, the main concern of population specialists not overpopulation of the planet, and its underpopulation (2). According to the UN Population Division, in the next 40 years the world population will increase by more than a quarter, from 6.9 to 9.1 billion, but this growth is fundamentally different quality than before: it is based on no birth rate and increase in the number elderly. It is expected that by mid-century, the number of children under five years of reduced worldwide by 49 million, while the number of those over 60 will grow by 1.2 billion as well as the world has managed to turn gray, but still so fast?

The reason is that more and more people are living to a ripe old age. In addition, the important role played by a giant increase in people born in the first decades after World War II (3). The aging process bebibumerov around the world will lead to a population explosion of the elderly population. Today in the West, there is a sharp increase in the number of 60-year-olds in 20 years we will see a demographic surge of 80-year-olds. In the coming decades, this route will follow the rest of the country.

But over time, the last echoes of the global generation bebibumerov fade. Then, because of the continuing decline of fertility would be faced with the fact that the population will fall at least as fast as it once grew. The population of Russia in 1991 had decreased by 7 million estimated by some researchers, while maintaining as low birth rate of 1.25 children per woman in Japan, the last Japanese baby will be born in 2959. By 2150, according to UN projections, the population of the earth could be half of today.

Such a prospect may seem appealing: less cars on the roads, more space on the beach, it is easier university entrance exam. But beware of their own desires.

Myth number 2: aging — a problem of rich countries

No. Demographers once believed that the aging and shrinking population — the characteristics of the "civilized" countries that have achieved a high level of well-being. But today we see that the birth rate falls below the replacement level, even in those countries that can hardly be called rich (4). Of the 59 countries where the light appears fewer children than needed to maintain the population at the same level, 18 are characterized by the UN as developing, that is not rich.

Thus, the population is aging at a record pace, including in most developing countries. Take, for example, Iran. Back in the late 1970s at the average Iranian woman had, as a rule, have seven children. Today, for reasons not fully understood — just 1.74 children, well below the 2.1 rate needed to maintain the population of the country in the long term. Accordingly, in the years 2010-2050 the proportion of the Iranian population 60 years and older is expected to increase from 7.1% to 28.1%. This is substantially more than in western Europe today, and approximately equal to that as expected, in most Nordic besides 2050. But, in contrast to Western Europe, the people of Iran and other developing countries and giperstareyuschih — from Cuba to Croatia, from Libya to the islands of Wallis and Futuna — do not necessarily have the chance to get rich before they get old.

Giperstareniyu promotes and urbanization. Today, more than half the world's population lives in urban areas, where children are considered serious burdening obligation, not an extra pair of hands on the farm. Two other factors — new job opportunities for women and widespread pension benefits and other financial instruments to support the elderly, for which there is no need to have many children for old age. Surprisingly, the aging of the population is not the result of programs aimed at population control. Of course, there are countries such as India, which used a wide range of methods, up to the forced sterilization in the 1970s, which led to a sharp decline in the birth rate. But there are examples to the contrary. In Brazil, the government has never imposed a family planning, and yet here the birth rate has declined even more. Why? In both countries, as indeed in the rest of the world, the main driving force influencing the decline in the birth rate, are the new cultural norm. Television effectiveness of government regulations: to Brazil TV came gradually, and where there is a "box", the birth rate in a short time fell sharply (5).

Myth number 3: if you believe the demographics, the West is doomed

Probably. But in Asia, the prospects are even less enviable. Those who predict that the coming century will be the "century of the Asian domination" does not seem to take into account the fact that Asia is on the verge of an era giperstareniya. Japan, where the economic recession coincided with a reduction in the working age population, demographic today is not the exception, but the leader of the Asian demographics. In South Korea and Taiwan are among the lowest fertility rates in the world. And the Singapore government not only offers grants to mothers (up to $ 3,000 for the first and second child and $ 4,500 for the third and fourth), paid maternity leave and other incentives, but also sponsors clubs dating. China has enjoyed economic benefits inherent in the initial stage of fertility decline: fewer children in the community in need of financial support, and more free women's hands, that is, additional labor. But because of the strict policy of "one family — one child" and extremely low fertility China is rapidly becoming a society "4-2-1" in which a child has two parents and four grandparents.

In the next decade, Asia will also suffer from a chronic shortage of women, which can lead the most populous region in the world to the same gender imbalance, as in the American West in the era of the birth of the country. Due to selective abortion in China is 16% more boys than girls, and this, according to the predictions of many scientists, will lead to social instability, where tens of millions have not attained the age of marriage of men will be looking for ways out of their excess libido. In India, the gender imbalance is almost the same, with very different levels of fertility in the south (mainly Hindu) and northern (Muslim) states, which could lead to ethnic tensions.

No society in history has experienced such a rapid aging or a pronounced gender imbalance as modern Asia.

Myth number 4: the old people will work longer

But only if they are healthy. Even in the affluent United States shows clearly how much mutilations in recent years, the number of middle-aged Americans who use sticks, walkers and wheelchairs. Among the clients of the network Walmart so many people with disabilities that the retail giant has replaced part of the shopping carts to electric scooters. According to a recent study by the Institute RAND Corp., More than 40% of Americans aged 50 to 64 are already experiencing difficulties in performing daily activities such as walking half a kilometer or overcoming ten steps without resting, which is significantly higher than a decade ago. With the deterioration of the physical form of middle-aged people with disabilities in the next generation of older people will be more. It's not just the Americans. Obesity and sedentary lifestyle are distributed all over the place. Overweight now affects more than a billion people worldwide, which equates to a global pandemic of chronic heart disease and diabetes.

Of course, countries can and will exert extra effort in helping people to grow old with dignity and encouraging older people to work as long as possible. As highlighted in a recent report by the European Commission, the increase in part-time jobs can not only serve as an incentive for later retirement, but also help to increase the birth rate (smoothed conflict between work and family). Increase the productive life span and contributes to the promotion of healthy eating, as well as construction or maintenance convenient for walking areas. But the number of retirees who are healthy enough mentally and physically to actively participate in the global economy over the next 20 years is limited.

Similar trends are contrary to the conventional wisdom of today position that the retirement age should be raised. Not only that progress in increasing life yet extremely modest and tend to zero, but disability rates are growing at an unprecedented pace, so much so that many older employees will be difficult to carry out their job duties, even if they have all the skills, which requires them to the modern economy (6). The more rapidly evolving society, the more obsolete skills, and with them, sadly, older employees.

Myth number 5: the world of the elderly will be calm

Optional. Some strategists, such as a scientist Mark L. Haas, suggests the occurrence of "geriatric peace". Their main arguments are as follows. First, in a world where the prevailing family with one child, the resistance of military service must increase, but tolerance for casualties during the war — to fall. Second, the increasing costs of pensions and health maintenance difficult war machine. Thirdly, the society that is dominated by people of middle and retirement age is less likely to risk and violent ideologies, it is much more interested in the internal matters of a practical nature, such as crime and pensions (7).

But with such a rosy scenario, there are difficulties. To begin with, even in a rapidly aging countries may, paradoxically, the case of an explosion of young people, with all the social consequences — from rising violence to the economic turmoil. Take, for example, Iran. According to the UN, by 2020, the number of Iranians from 15 to 24 years decreased by 34% compared with 2005. For the most part, is the result of a severe economic downturn after the revolution of 1979 and the authorization of contraception clerical regime. But in the years 2020-2035 the number of young people again will increase by 34%, even if the birth rate continues to fall. Why? Today, a large percentage of Iranian women are of childbearing age, and even if the young iranok will be far fewer children than their mothers, that is not enough for the reproduction of the population in the long term, this amount would be enough to create a temporary "the echo" baby boom. With similar variations will face many other Muslim countries, the majority of the republics of Central Asia, which have long served as a battleground for the major powers — from the Mongols and Persians to the Russian and British empires — and again today, are the object of geopolitical struggle for their natural gas and oil (8) .

In the coming decades, "echo" booms birth rate will lead to the increase of young people in many areas of tension, and a significant part of the population in developed countries will reach a ripe old age. This combination represents the maximum demographic danger. If you think that today's teenagers behave disgusting, get ready for 2020.

Myth number 6: The world will be poorer than the elderly

Only if you sit idly by. Communication with the public welfare of the demographic situation is cyclical. First, when the birth rate is falling, and the working population grows older, it becomes proportionally fewer children in need of care and education. And this is good: there are more opportunities for female labor in the formal economy, and investment in the education of each child grow. Other things being equal, both factors stimulate economic development. In Japan, this phase came in the 1960s and 70s, now enjoy these benefits China. But the situation is gradually becoming less optimistic. Low fertility leads to a reduction of not only children but also people of working age, and the proportion of elderly dependents is increasing rapidly. Stimulating the economy gives way to its attenuation. Reducing the number of young means reduced demand for new homes, furniture and other material goods, fewer people are willing to entrepreneurial risks. Desperate attempts to artificially maintain the level of consumption and family values lead to capital flight in the long-term loans and the creation of financial bubbles.

Infinitely aging planet is clearly asking for trouble. But the birth rate will not necessarily fall forever. The way forward may be the so-called Swedish way. It implies a serious state intervention, which aims — to smooth tensions between work and family life and to allow women to have children without undue financial loss (9). The other extreme — "the way of the Taliban ': a return to traditional values, when women in addition to motherhood is a minimum of social and economic rights. Is there a third way? Yes, but how to use it, is not clear. The trick is to restore what was regarded as the truth in times of family farms and businesses: a resource that children rather than a burden. Imagine a society in which parents retain much of their accumulated human capital by investing in its children, and the family is no longer the only unit of consumption, but as the producing company. The future — for a society that will restore the economic foundation of the family. Otherwise, we really expect poverty and old age.


1. American biologist and professor at Stanford University, president of the Center for Conservation Biology
2. Global population growth over the last 50 years was reduced from 2% to about half, and in many countries, children are born is not enough to prevent a decline in population.
3. In the U.S. and Western Europe, particularly the sharp jump in the birth rate was at the end of the 1940s and 1950s, when the soldiers returned from the war to catch up. In the 1960s and 1970s baby boom experienced in most developing countries, but for a different reason: the extraordinary decline of infant and child mortality.
4. For the first time in this position appeared in the 1970 Scandinavian countries, they were followed by Europe, Russia, Asia and South America, the Caribbean, South India and even the Middle East, such as Libya, Morocco and Iran.
5. What a difference in the repertoire of Brazilian television broadcast in soap opera about the life of the rich, or the fact that TV is now just working in more bedrooms than before.
6. That would explain a paradox: as reported by American employers today is almost impossible to find qualified engineers, their lack of obvious — while the unemployment rate for engineers in the U.S. is incredibly high.
7. Researchers often cite the example of Japan, which is in the process of aging becoming more peaceful and stable. Western Europe was torn apart by internal strife, when the legendary "generation of 1968" was still young, but as bebibumery matured themselves to have a child (at least — Children), the political and social agenda has become an order of magnitude less radical.
8. It's not just bare statistics. As we know from not so long troubled chapters in European history, the transition from demographic growth to recession can be damaging and dangerous. Fascist ideology in Europe was inspired by the texts of eugenicists obsessed demographic decline of the "Aryans". Today, when the horrors of fascism gradually erased from living memory, a new generation of Europeans again feels slighted demographically, this time by Muslim immigrants. Fear of demographic decline also contributes to the revival of Hindu nationalism in India.
9. However, while the countries that have chosen this path, have made very little progress.

Translated Alona Bocharovoj, Esquire

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