Write to the Economist re “Falling fertility”

November 3, 2009 • Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Bob Walker and several other people for drawing my attention to the current issue of The Economist, which has a cover story on how the population problem is solving itself. As you’ll see below, the editorial in this edition makes several false statements about population issues. To send a letter to the Economist, please e-mail letters@economist.com. Here’s my letter, followed by the editorial and two articles.

The Economist [“Falling Fertility”] is to be congratulated for recognizing that lower fertility has helped to spur economic growth in much of the world, but it’s a little too early to be uncorking the champagne for sub-Saharan Africa and much of South Asia. Yes, global fertility rates fell sharply in the latter half of the 20th Century, but fertility rates remain stubbornly high in some of the poorest developing nations, and in some countries–like Kenya–fertility rates are climbing back up. With women bearing nearly seven children on average, Uganda’s population is expected to more than triple over the next 40 years. The same is true of Niger. In Congo, the average fertility rate is six, virtually unchanged from 50 years ago. In Afghanistan, where women also bear an average of six children, the population will nearly double by mid-century.

Ten years ago, The Economist [“Drowning in Oil”] blew it on oil, when it famously declared that “The world is awash with the stuff and it is likely to remain so.” Declarations in 2009 that “Population growth is already slowing almost as fast as it naturally could” or “worries about a population explosion are themselves being exploded,” are equally unfounded.

In addition, the article declares that the only way to slow population growth more quickly would be coercion. In addition to being immoral, as the article says, this approach would be ineffective – as it was in India, when it tried this in the 1970s. Far more effective is communication of the benefits of smaller families for economic welfare and delaying and spacing childbearing for better maternal and child health.

Falling fertility

Oct 29th 2009
From The Economist print edition

Astonishing falls in the fertility rate are bringing with them big benefits

THOMAS MALTHUS first published his “Essay on the Principle of Population”, in which he forecast that population growth would outstrip the world’s food supply, in 1798. His timing was unfortunate, for something started happening around then which made nonsense of his ideas. As industrialisation swept through what is now the developed world, fertility fell sharply, first in France, then in Britain, then throughout Europe and America. When people got richer, families got smaller; and as families got smaller, people got richer.

For full article, visit:


Go forth and multiply a lot less

SOMETIME in the next few years (if it hasn’t happened already) the world will reach a milestone: half of humanity will be having only enough children to replace itself. That is, the fertility rate of half the world will be 2.1 or below. This is the “replacement level of fertility”, the magic number that causes a country’s population to slow down and eventually to stabilise. According to the United Nations population division, 2.9 billion people out of a total of 6.5 billion were living in countries at or below this point in 2000-05. The number will rise to 3.4 billion out of 7 billion in the early 2010s and to over 50% in the middle of the next decade. The countries include not only Russia and Japan but Brazil, Indonesia, China and even south India.

For full article, visit:


The rich are different

Rich nations are also reaching replacement fertility—by boosting their rates

WHAT happens in poor countries when they reach replacement fertility? The lesson of rich countries is that they stay there for decades. German fertility dipped below replacement in 1970 and is still low. America is the only rich country that, having fallen below the replacement rate, has risen back above it.

For full article, visit:

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