Please tell me population will still peak by mid-century at the latest

So apparently, and contra many years’ worth of seemingly reputable reports, new data indicates that the planet’s population will not be peaking in the middle of this century (or sooner!) and then decline, but will instead reach 11 billion by 2100.

This is horrifying, in that one of my primary sources of hope for the future will be gone if this turns out to be true. But how can this be? Without access to the full study (as far as I can tell), I want to call bullshit on it because:

  1. Total fertility rates are declining almost everywhere, sometimes very slowly, but they are declining. Those few areas in which fertility is not noticeably declining, like Gaza and Yemen, will peak in population for Malthusian reasons in the foreseeable future, unless substantial emigration opportunities open up, or something else changes.

  2. The whole world’s TFR is only about 2.5 or 2.6, and that’s not too far above replenishment level. Populations don’t begin to shrink for some time after dropping below replenishment level, but that’s where it starts.

  3. There are several large areas where further declines in fertility look certain. Northern Indian states will likely follow their southern counterparts; the primary sources of immigrants to the United States (Latin American countries) have in some cases seen substantial and ongoing drops in fertility; it’s happening in much of the Arab world if you believe Nicholas Eberstadt’s research; The Philippines finally passed a family planning law, etc.

  4. Low fertility rates often (but not always) lead to labor shortages, which leads (in spite of much resistance) to migration, which besides occupying people who might otherwise be mating also leads to large flows of remittances, which pay for girls’ education and IUDs and many other things that lower fertility. Permanent migrants also usually trend towards the fecundity norms of their destination country, at least by the second generation. Considering the number of large economies with low fertility, I predict this will be a major global trend.

  5. All the economic issues that have caused so many people to delay and reduce their childbearing aren’t going away, and aren’t most of the other factors that lower fertility (urbanization, women’s education, contraceptive access) spreading inexorably? The Gates Foundation and others are heavily invested in family planning; surely those heavy hitters can push the TFR down a bit, no?

  6. Childfree-ness (childfreedom?) is more common and less stigmatized; there are fewer LGBT people in sham marriages; generations that grow up in a low-fertility environment see it as the norm, and they also have few opportunities while growing up to interact with younger children.

  7. Although some fertility increases have occurred in low-TFR places recently, all the money and effort spent to try and raise fertility rates has only produced relatively meager results.

  8. Increases in life expectancy at the end of life are quite small compared with the results of lowering infant and maternal mortality, and are trending toward zero. Most people don’t want to live to be 100 anyway, and it’s becoming more common to be prepared to end one’s (or a loved one’s) life before infirmity overtakes one.

  9. Gandarusa could be a game changer, and even if not, there are other male contraceptive methods on the way… perpetually…

And finally:

  1. Climate-change-related catastrophes and other environmental crises are a huge disincentive to having children. I’ve seen little empirical evidence on this point so far, but I have a strong hunch.

So what am I (and all the experts, apparently) missing?

I am not sure I am buying it either and I certainly hope that it isn’t true. The answer to most of your questions is right there in the article. Most of the growth that is predicted is in sub-Saharan Africa. I am not a demographic expert but one thing I do know is that sub-Saharan Africa in general is excellent about culling its population through wars, famine and disease just to name a few things. I cannot see how they can add the equivalent of two or three Chinas there in less than 100 years without tremendous changes that haven’t been demonstrated yet.

Count me in the camp of people that believes that a population of 11 billion people would be an absolute disaster. Even the 7 billion people that we have today is a disaster as well but it is masked by the fact that we are using non-renewable resources to sustain it temporarily. The long-term sustainable human population according to most analyses is only 1 - 3 billion people.

IMHO thread on the matter.

Anyway, besides what Shagnasty said, 90 years is much too long a time to make an effective prediction of where social trends will go. There’s a consistent pattern of failed predictions where some group or person takes a present trend and projects it indefinitely into the future.

The highest fertility rates can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa where people have an average of 6-7 children. The second highest fertility rates are found in the Greater Middle East (including Pakistan and Afghanistan.).

With China and Philippines already imposing Family Planning laws and Singapore trying to revive its old one, it’s clear that these countries with massive populations will reduce their fertility rates. India, can be a problem, even though it halved its fertility rate in less than 10 years and it still continuing to diminish it, the fertility rate stand at 2.5. Although this problem is being eased by the government-based endorsement of contraceptives.

Afghanistan, Somalia and some other countries, which has noticeably high fertility rates has all been under either political unrest or other military conflicts (trend).

European countries (non-former-USSR states) have relatively low fertility rates and it’s estimated that African population will surpass European population by 2100, as the RU AFR stands at 1.59 while the Sub-Saharan African AFR stands at more than 4… Although we should note that the FR in almost every country has been dropping an this includes Sub-Saharan countries too and the education statistics are improving at the same time along with other factors which reduce the FRs…

But even though these stats can be enough to conclude that no Earth-wide population-related catastrophe will happen, since there is a massive number of people on Earth, the life expectancy is increasing in every region there can indeed be some significant population growth, in short-term (some centuries). But in the long-run of course with other factors added like the shift of energy sources used for industrial purposes which affect everyone on Earth the population will drop and the poor will die.

If you really want a sharp decline on population, what you need is a nuclear war. Which you certainly do not want. If you’re not Satan.

You’re not.

TFR is a straight line down as you approach $5000 or so in per capita income, the closer you get to that mark the lower the TFR. The question is can Sub Saharan African nations achieve all that comes with a per capita income of 5-10k. Good health care systems, education for women, reasonable living standards, etc.

My hope is that Africa become’s Chinas China. Africa will be where China goes for cheap labor and as a result they will see their infrastructure and economies develop. There are a lot of investment opportunities in Africa. Poorly used farmland, cheap labor, natural resources, etc that hopefully will help lift them out of poverty with international investment.

According to thisAfrica is now the second fastest growing region on earth behind parts of Asia. Rates of 5% growth a year result in doubling every 14 years.

There are two questions: the facts and our reaction to them. First, the facts. I don’t know what the earth’s population will be in 2100. Neither do you. Neither does anyone else. Not even the people who are paid large salaries to predict population trends and write reports for governments and other “reputable” sources. It’s all just guesswork. You and I and anyone else could make up a number. Our numbers wouldn’t be correct, but they’d be just as useful as anything from the so-called experts.

You list a number of trends in your OP. All of those trends may continue and drive down fertility rates. On the other hand, it may be that none of those trends continue. All involved the element of human free will, so there’s no way to predict which trends will continue and which won’t. (Though I feel fairly confident that climate-change-related catastrophes will not have any effect on fertility, since they’re refusing to happen.)

On to the second question: how should we feel about all this? You say that the prospect is “horrifying”. Not everyone agrees. I don’t. I’m not at all worried about overpopulation. Those predicting some sort of disaster due to an abundance of people have been consistently wrong for two centuries, going right back to Malthus himself. There’s nothing to worry about, in other words.

I heard someone on a Bible radio show saying exactly the same thing. Look at all the empty land there is, even in as densely populated an area as New Jersey. There’s lots of room for more people.

Just…not enough clean water, energy, food, transportation, medicine, or jobs. (And what about loss of habitat for other animals? Ah, well, fuck 'em, they’re just elephants and things.)

But, goddamn, there’s plenty of room.

There are two basic views on the population issue. That of Malthus (and more recently Paul Ehrlich) and that of Julian Simon and the some others. The Malthusians, like Paul Ehrlich, have been predicting doom and gloom for a while. When their predictions fail, they do not rethink their positions. Instead they glom onto a new crisis which will lead to the destruction of mankind in X number of years. For example, Ehrlich is now convinced global warming/climate change is gonna kill us all after his prediction of mass starvation in the U.S. by the mid 1980’s failed quite spectacularly.

The Julian Simon side predicts that, in general, things will get cheaper and more abundant. and those predictions have come true.

The major source of poverty and hunger in the world is political. Wars and fighting lead to a lot of the poverty. Corrupt governments, ethnic hatred, and absolute stupidity (see North Korea) are the main causes of resource issues.

In other words, resources aren’t our problem. People are the problem.


People are certainly a huge problem… But resources are also finite. We’re using water to the very limit. We can only feed the world’s population by chemically-boosted farming, which is not sustainable. We’re increasing the salinity of the world’s arable soil, and we’re flushing phosphorus into the ocean.

We can only feed the world’s population by energy-consuming farming. Without tractors, the ploughing couldn’t get done. And the oil is getting used up.

Yet, we’ve escaped doom a number of times, by wrenching more calories out of every square foot of soil. We can do this again, a few more times. We can stop raising animals for food, and go to an all-vegetarian diet. We can probably do a lot in the way of hydroponics. We can recycle sewage, for an awful lot of calories go right through the human intestines.

Maybe there are new technological breakthroughs waiting. Maybe science will develop artificial photosynthesis, or perhaps we’ll manage to genetically engineer life-forms that utilize a larger percentage of the sun’s energy. “Neo-Photosynthesis,” perhaps, realizing three per cent of the energy that passes through it, instead of the one per cent we reap now.

But: 1) do you want to bet several billion lives on it? And 2) how many more times do we get to escape impending doom? It’s like someone at Las Vegas on a lucky streak: do you seriously imagine it’s going to last forever?

Bugs. People are going to eat more and more bugs.

This is a biggie, and I have a strong hunch you’re wrong about this. At least if Africans’ response to other catastrophe is anything to go by.

It does not matter whether I want to bet several billion lives on it. I am not making the decision about how many children will be born during this century. Neither are you. Neither is anyone else. Individuals and couples make the decision about how many children they want to have. (Except in China, of course.) Based on several billion such decisions, population trends will go up or down or flat or do something over the next century, and indeed in all centuries.

You were making a debate position that there are enough resources for the earth’s population to increase. I debated against that.

Saying that the decision isn’t yours to make is true, but is not relevant to the debate position you put forward.

No, they use empirical evidence and advanced modeling techniques to extrapolate and make predictions. This takes out a lot of the guessing, but of course it’s an inexact science.

What? They’re happening right now, and the scientific community with a near-unanimous consensus on this sort of thing deals in a far more exact field than, say, demographers and such.

Only by degree, and only thanks to discoveries/advances/conditions that may no longer hold, and, as has already been pointed out in this thread, gambling that we’ll get that lucky again is quite a gamble.

Again, that’s quite a gamble, and besides, humanity averted some of the predicted crises because lots of people responded to warnings of overpopulation by aggressively moving to do something about it.

Indeed, but states like North Korea are outliers these days, compared with neoliberal regimes that the US supports, where populations have to bear the burden of disasters they didn’t necessarily cause (like the North Koreans do).

That link actually leads to a report about overpopulation in Nigeria illustrating an imminent problem for many areas. I wasn’t really referring to people (like many Nigerians and people in Africa’s middle regions) who lack many of the factors that drive down fertility, and besides, diseases can be contained and their impact blunted. I was referring to people with some or all of the means to understand what’s happening, and who will thus decide that parenthood is not a good choice. The Great Depression had that result in many places, and I very frequently think of a friend of mine who, when Bush backed out of the Kyoto Accords in 2001, began to seriously question whether or not she wanted to have kids.

Yes. Insecurity of all kinds (economic, physical, etc.) provides incentives to make a smaller investment in a larger number of children, rather than a larger investment in fewer children. Having just one child in an insecure situation is basically asking to become destitute.

That link is almost certainly incorrect. The lowest fertility rates in Africa are in Southern African countries where HIV is at its worst, and the highest fertility rates are in West Africa, where HIV prevalence is (relatively) low, at least by contrast with central, east, and southern Africa.

Knowledgeable African TFR isn’t “6-7” children, it’s slightly over 5. It was 6.5 in 1950, so Africa has seen a fertility decline, just a very slow one.

The long-term trends towards replacement level fertility, plus or minus a bit, have been pretty much universally seen elsewhere in the world, across all sorts of economic systems, religions, and racial groups, outside a few of the most backward Muslim countries. North America, South America, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Caribbean, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and most recently South Asia and Southern Africa are approaching fertility in the 2.5 range as well. Taking that into account, I would bet the rest of Africa is going to follow suit as well. It may take a bit longer, though.

The answer to both of the above is that at some point resources will clearly be a problem (and for practical discussion, galactic colonization is off the table). The only question is when, and whether we’re already at that point.

There are certainly many indications that we may already be at that point – climate change, for instance, and the dramatically rising cost of resource-limited commodities like land and housing and all things made from petroleum products. And the effects of pollution in general that can affect us in all kinds of subtle and unpredictable ways – I just came across this today:

All of these problems may have specific solutions – individually, and up to a point. Collectively and without limit, they do not.

I’ve read this so many times, and it always seems partly selfish and partly illogical. Why would you have children just so they might take care of you, when they themselves did not ask to be born? Also, who wants to live that long?

Leaving all of that aside, as I indicated previously, I’m referring to circumstances in which it seems like bringing children into this world is a rather ill-advised thing to do, for their sake and your own.

[Off topic, and belongs in IMHO, but I can’t resist saying :]
Raising children is the most intimate,loving decision a person can make.

The Depression of 1930 was a disaster. It had terrible, direct effects on individuals—leaving many Americans hungry and homeless (so, yes, naturally some of them had fewer children.)

The Kyoto accord of 2001 was a joke. It was based on an untested theory, which might or might not have some kind of unknown effect on…something.*

If your friend questions whether she wants to have kids because she believes in a vague theory based on smug political-correctness, I feel sorry for her family.

*that “something” might have been taxes, or unemployment.
Or the sale of carbon-credits —which would be as useless at saving the planet in the 21st century as the Catholic Church’s sale of Indulgences were at saving sinners in the 15th century.

I wouldn’t be so superlative about parenting (“most loving”), but to the extent that that’s true, isn’t that a great reason to want to make sure that one’s children won’t come into an environment filled with fear and suffering? I think the rejection of the Kyoto Accords demonstrated to her that our “leaders” had no interest in ensuring a livable planet for future generations.