As the population boom declines, remember to thank women

Not anymore, man!

This week the world will reach 7 billion people. Understandably that raises concern about a soaring world population. But there is a good news story from the demographic data that is not often told. We — or rather the poor women of the world — are defusing the population bomb.

Women today are having half as many children as their mothers and grandmothers. The global average is now down to 2.5 children per woman, and it continues to fall.

This is not just a rich-world phenomenon. Much of Asia now has fertility rates below two, from Japan and Korea to China, with its one-child policy, through Taiwan, Vietnam, Burma, Singapore and much of southern India and parts of the Middle East. Behind the veil, the women of Iran have cut their fertility from eight to less than two in a generation…

Falling fertility happens faster if countries get richer and if women are better educated. Similarly urbanization helps a lot. While even young children can be an economic asset on an African peasant farm, they are an economic liability in cities, where they require education before they can get a job. The teeming megacities of the poor world may look like symbols of overpopulation, but they are part of the solution, too.

But the real story is that rich or poor, Muslim or Catholic, secular or devout, socialist or capitalist, with tough government birth control policies or none, most countries tell the same story. Small families are becoming the new norm…

…We are, I believe, likely to see “peak population” by about mid-century. Perhaps at around 9 billion people.

After that, on current trends of fertility falling to below replacement levels, we will see a falling world population.
And rapid aging. With longer life expectancy and fewer babies, this is all but inevitable. China will soon be aging faster than anywhere on Earth. Aging is set to be the dominant demographic phenomenon of the 21st century, just as the population boom dominated the 20th century.

Pearce makes a couple of eloquent points – among them that the Arab Spring wouldn’t have been as likely if North African families were still stuck into the numbers of a few decades ago. Everyone would have been spending twice as much time trying to earn enough to feed the whole family. Fewer hours working – more time to contribute a voice to questions of social justice.

He finishes with questions of consumption as more serious than population. Laying the responsibility for action on rich nations. And to some extent I agree. Though living here in the GOUSA we tend to forget the rest of the world hasn’t been caught up in the absurd consumption society that has defined the United States since WW2.

And, please – remember to thank women for reducing the population burden. I doubt if the number of men who can think that far ahead match the number of sensible women. Men, after all, don’t get pregnant.