On World Population Day, Nine Strategies to Stop Short of 9 Billion

Empowering women to make their own reproductive choices can both improve public health around the world and stabilize an increasing population.  (Photo credit: UNFPA Uganda)

Although most analysts assume that the world’s population will rise from today’s 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, it is quite possible that humanity will never reach this population size.

My chapter in this year’s State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity, “Nine Population Strategies to Stop Short of 9 Billion,”outlines a series of strategies that would prompt significant declines in birth rates. Based purely on the intention of women around the world to have small families or no children at all, these initiatives, policies, and changes in attitude could end population growth before mid-century at fewer than 9 billion people.

Examples from around the world demonstrate effective policies that not only reduce birth rates, but also respect the reproductive aspirations of parents and support an educated and economically active society that promotes the health of women and girls. Most of these reproduction policies are relatively inexpensive to implement, yet in many places they are opposed on the basis of cultural resistance and political infeasibility.  

In creating this list, I sought to eschew the language and approaches of “population control,” or the idea that anyone should pressure women and their partner on reproduction. Instead, I hoped to highlight strategies that could put human population on an environmentally sustainable path:

  • Eradicate gender bias from law, economic opportunity, health, and culture. Women who can own, inherit, and manage property; divorce; obtain credit; and participate in civic and political affairs on equal terms with men are more likely to postpone childbearing and to have fewer children compared to women who are deprived of these rights.
  • Offer age-appropriate sexuality education for all students. Data from the United States indicate that exposure to comprehensive programs that detail puberty, intercourse, options of abstinence and birth control, and respecting the sexual rights and decisions of individuals can help prevent unwanted pregnancies and hence reduce birth rates.
  • Put prices on environmental costs and impacts. In quantifying the cost of an additional family member by calculating taxes and increased food costs, couples may decide that the cost of having an additional child is too high. Such decisions, freely made by women and couples, can decrease birth rates without any involvement by non-parents in reproduction.
  • Adjust to an aging population instead of boosting childbearing through government incentives and programs. Population aging must be met with the needed societal adjustments, such as increased labor participation, rather than by offering incentives to women to have more children.
  • Convince leaders to commit to stabilizing population through the exercise of human rights and human development. By educating themselves on rights-based population policies, policymakers can ethically and effectively address population-related challenges by empowering women to make their own reproductive choices.  

If most or all of these strategies were put into effect, global population likely would peak and subsequently begin a gradual decline before 2050, thereby ensuring sustainable development of natural resources and global stability into the future. By implementing policies that defend human rights, promote education, and reflect the true economic and environmental costs of childbearing, the world can halt population short of the 9 billion that so many analysts expect.

Research assistance provided by Kathleen Mogelgaard.

Robert Engelman | Sustainable Prosperity | July 11, 2012

Homepage image: International Women's Day in Manila, Phillipines (Photo credit: Inter Press Serivce)

You may also be interested in: 

 

SOW12

State of the World 2012:
Moving Toward 
Sustainable Prosperity

 

183

Worldwatch Report #183:
Population, Climate Change,
and Womens' Lives

 

VS12

Vital Signs 2012:
 The Trends that are
Shaping our Future