Is population growth out of control?

With kind permission from Peter Rosset of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (or FoodFirst.org as it is also known), chapter 3 of World Hunger: 12 Myths, 2nd Edition, by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset, with Luis Esparza (fully revised and updated, Grove/Atlantic and Food First Books, Oct. 1998) has been reproduced and posted here. Due to the length of the chapter, it has been split into sub pages on this site.

On November 23, 1997, the New York Times Magazine proclaimed in a headline: "The Population Explosion Is Over."1 The author of the article summed up what demographers have known for some time: human fertility and population growth rates are falling as quickly as they once rose. In fact, the secondary headline read in part, "the prospect of an emptier planet is creating its own set of problems."2

Since we published the last edition of this book, it has become clear that human fertility and population growth rates are dropping rapidly around the world. In the early 1950s, when we began to hear echoes of Thomas Malthus in warnings of an impending population explosion, the global total fertility rate (the number of children per woman) was five, more than double the replacement rate of 2.1 (the number that gives a stable population size over time).3 By the late 1970s the total fertility rate had fallen to four, and by the mid-1990s it was 2.8 and dropping.

European and North American fertility rates peaked in 1955, dropping steadily since, and in Europe are now well below replacement. In Asia and Latin America, fertility has fallen steadily from about six in 1950 to below three in 1995. In Africa, fertility peaked at 6.75 in the early 1960s, dropping slowly through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 1995 it stood at 5.7, about where South Asia and Latin America were twenty years earlier, and precisely the fertility level at which those regions then experienced accelerated fertility declines.

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  • Posted: Saturday, December 02, 2000

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