Three Myths on the World’s Poor
Bill and Melinda Gates call foreign aid a phenomenal investment that’s transforming the world.
By almost any measure, the world is better off now than it has ever been before. Extreme poverty has been cut in half over the past 25 years, child mortality is plunging, and many countries that had long relied on foreign aid are now self-sufficient.
So why do so many people seem to think things are getting worse? Much of the reason is that all too many people are in the grip of three deeply damaging myths about global poverty and development. Don’t get taken in by them….
MYTH THREE: Saving lives leads to overpopulation.
Going back at least to Thomas Malthus in 1798, people have worried about doomsday scenarios in which food supply can’t keep up with population growth. This kind of thinking has gotten the world in a lot of trouble. Anxiety about the size of the world population has a dangerous tendency to override concern for the human beings who make up that population.
Letting children die now so they don’t starve later isn’t just heartless. It also doesn’t work, thank goodness.
It may be counterintuitive, but the countries with the most death have among the fastest-growing populations in the world. This is because the women in these countries tend to have the most births too.
When more children survive, parents decide to have smaller families. Consider Thailand. Around 1960, child mortality started going down. Then around 1970, after the government invested in a strong family planning program, birthrates started to drop. In the course of just two decades, Thai women went from having six children on average to having just two. Today, child mortality in Thailand is almost as low as it is in the U.S., and Thai women have an average of 1.6 children. This pattern of falling death rates followed by falling birthrates applies for the vast majority the world.
Saving lives doesn’t lead to overpopulation. Just the opposite. Creating societies where people enjoy basic health, relative prosperity, fundamental equality and access to contraceptives is the only way to a sustainable world.
More people, especially political leaders, need to know about the misconceptions behind these myths. The fact is, whether you look at the issue as an individual or a government, contributions to promote international health and development offer an astonishing return. We all have the chance to create a world where extreme poverty is the exception rather than the rule.
Current World Population
Net Growth During Your Visit