Superficial Fertility Analysis Defuses Little

June 22, 2012 • Family Planning, News

The following essay, by one Mr. Bill King, was printed recently in the Houston Chronicle. There are plenty of otherwise true facts in the essay, along with a few errors, but the conclusions drawn by Mr. King indicate he has little understanding of the monumental effort that has gone into global fertility reduction — nor the extra-monumental effort that will need to be implemented and sustained over the next several decades if even the median UN variant is to be achieved. See:

King: Waning fertility rates defuse population bomb

By Bill King

Updated 08:05 p.m., Wednesday, June 20, 2012

When I was a sophomore in college, my sociology professor had our class read Thomas Malthus’ “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” Malthus argued that human population increases geometrically while food production only increases arithmetically. Therefore, he concluded that the human race was destined to eternal misery as its population would always be bumping up against its ability to produce sustenance.

Malthus wrote his essay around the turn of the 19th century. His belief that the human race was careening headlong into a population-induced apocalypse was redefined in modern terms by Paul Ehrlich’s best-selling book, “The Population Bomb,” published in 1968, in which he predicted worldwide famine in the 1970s and 1980s.

This worldview was reinforced in popular media with movies like “Soylent Green,” which depicted a future in which human bodies would be recycled for food. I remember being so impressed by the danger they described I joined a group that Ehrlich helped found called Zero Population Growth.

Malthus’ and Ehrlich’s dire predictions of famine never came to pass, primarily due to a burst of agricultural technological advances in the middle of the 20th century frequently referred to as the Green Revolution. But until recently, their argument that population grows geometrically still was thought to be correct, and notwithstanding the unanticipated advances in agriculture, the human race seemed nonetheless on a collision course with a world of limited resources, including energy, clean water and arable land.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the population apocalypse: Women across the world suddenly (at least in demographic terms) starting having dramatically fewer babies.

The mathematics of population growth are surprisingly complex, but the basic principle is that there is a direct correlation between population and the average number of children each woman has during her lifetime, which is known as the fertility rate. To maintain a stable population, the average fertility rate must be slightly more than two.


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