Population Boom & Bust – Revisiting the problem of population increase

Following my previous posts on the damage our demand for resources is having on our planet, I think it’s about time I approached this monster of a topic – population increase. It’s what is causing the demand after all (with the addition of a growing middle class). Attempts to curb it are pretty futile and with religious beliefs affecting people’s choices on contraception, the problem continues to escalate.

So where do I stand?

I’m unapologetically Malthusian. Leaps and bounds in healthcare and agriculture alongside the contrasts in the cultural mindset on the number of offspring one should have has led to a trend of constant increase in population in lesser developed countries and a decrease in more developed countries. To make my point clearer, an ad campaign in India showing the benefits of fewer children (one photo showed a man with a car, house and two kids vs a man in a slum with many) was not well received with the common comment in response being ‘the guy with the car and house doesn’t have enough children!’ Fret not though, for all the optimists out there, I do feel that our intellect has a habit of redeeming us when the end seems very nigh.

There are some factors that have counteracted growth – education for one. National Geographic’s 7 billion series mentioned that statistically, the longer a woman is in education for the fewer children she will have (through an expanded attitude to birth control etc). The other restriction is some of the most populous country’s government policy – namely China’s one child and India’s bribed vasectomy operations in exchange for housing benefits (as mentioned in National Geographic). This, inevitably, creates a network of social problems.

Does the government really have the right to restrict and remove our basic, primal function as humans – to reproduce? Or should we see the wider picture, that we’re all drops in the vast ocean of populations spiralling out of control? It’s a toss up between a planet which is risking overload and our instincts as humans – parenthood. It’s not only the potential restriction of free will to reproduce, it’s also the conflict of often universal and long-held gender preferences.

China, a culture long standing in preferences of boys over girls has notorious rates of female infanticide (however, sex-selective abortion has been made strictly illegal). This has been all the more intensified by the one child policy.

Drawing from a lecture I recently attended by the British-Chinese journalist Xinran, she highlighted the pressing issues the policy is having on the culture and the rights of women. The problems are devastating. A policy that encourages immoral actions is terrifying. It’s encouraging a culture that treats killing and abandonment of infants as necessary actions to avoid falling into poverty.

Additionally, children are left without cousins and the stable family structure of previous generations. However, the population in China has lowered meaning that the government can provide better services (although, it is worth mentioning the disparities in quality of life between rural and urban areas – particularly education).

Then there’s the view that the population just isn’t too big. Although, I feel that as countries continue to industrialise and quality of life improves (to achieve western standards of living), we’re going to encounter a problem. If we can get these countries to implement sustainable development strategies, the risk could be minimalised. However, working that out could be a bit of an economic pickle.

To end positively (sorry it’s so doomy and gloomy) let’s hope we wake up pretty soon and get mother necessity to make us invent the solutions.

Charlotte Tidman


3 thoughts on “Population Boom & Bust – Revisiting the problem of population increase

  1. One solution is to popularize adoption, especially for those who are not able to conceive on their own. I know one person who is adopted, and a friend of mine is starting the adoption process. A first step is to take care of the people who are already here.

    We then have to evaluate the idea of ‘primal function’. There are many natural functions that society has dictated how we control or perform those functions. Through eduction the group has the ability to adjust the perception of that function. If we identify this function as a critical element for future survival, then we would be more willing to agree with social control of that function. Why do we have to wait for more desperate times to discuss the best policy for group survival?

  2. Whilst popularising adoption is an admirable social endeavour in itself, and I am by no means saying it’s a bad course of action, it would infact exacerbate current population problems. As a generalization childless couples tend to be weighted towards living in the first world, and by taking children from families who can’t provide for them (families with a low rate of drain on resources) and putting them in affluent childless families, you only increase the strain on the worlds resources. I do agree with your point about changing perceptions, but I think having children is a special case, because we can’t really say ‘dont have too many kids’ to people in the way we can say ‘dont smoke’. Both are bad for society, true, but having kids has none of the perceived individual drawbacks that smoking has, hence making it more difficult to change through ad campaigns. Finally, I too would deplore our last minute approach to issues such as this, but such is the nature of a short-lifespan, prone to procrastination ape. Thank you Anne for stirring in me some debatory zeal, Howard.

  3. Thank you for both of your insightful commentaries on this issue. However, with social control of our function for reproduction other problems can incur. I read recently (after my post) that on top of all the social issues already developed from China’s one-child policy they are now in fact facing a demographic problem in relation to age proportions – a low percentage working age people and a high percentage of retirement age people requiring social support and care. By restricting the number of children born, yes they have reduced population growth, but in the process they’ve left themselves with a high ageing population that lacks children to support them.

    According to Trust magazine the dependency ratio in 2050 is expected to reach 64 – ‘for every 100 people of working age, there will be 64 of non-working age who need to be financially supported.’ Additionally, China’s median age is also set to rise. This is effectively a hyperactive version of what is happening in European countries (as a sweeping generalisation – not taking into account migratory factors), but with people being coerced into not having more children. I’m not sure if there is a definitive policy on social control for every country out there.

    I’m guessing any potential policies on population growth will just have to be tailored to individual countries by taking into account their individual characteristics and cultures. However, achieving co-operation (as some countries are actually seeking to grow their population – Russia’s payment scheme for having children, for example) and avoiding bias on this is going to be difficult.

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