How does overpopulation lead to poverty
Overpopulation: Are We Too Many In The World? What we should really be talking about
I recently wrote about how most people in the world are getting better and better, healthier, better educated, and more opportunities. But of course there are still many problems. Wars, hunger, many countries are trapped in poverty - and last but not least, the climate crisis. A poster then wrote:
I don't think that's a taboo. My impression is that this is a widespread view: there are far too many people in the world, there are more and more, and that is a huge problem. So let's talk about it.
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Let's start with a look at the numbers. The number of people in the world is increasing enormously. There are currently more than 7.5 billion people. Since the 1960s, the world population has grown by a billion every ten to 15 years. It is this line that makes a lot of people nervous. Why is the world population increasing so rapidly?
What happens in the world follows a well-known pattern. For the longest time in history the number of people was balanced. Women had very many children, a few of whom survived, but did not grow old because they were sick or beaten to death. In today's rich countries that changed a long time ago. The balance became unbalanced. As epidemics receded and prosperity increased, the death rate declined - people were better fed, educated, and healthier - and, with a delay, so did the number of children born.
The process in which fewer people initially die but many more children are born is known as the "demographic transition". In this phase the balance becomes unbalanced and the population increases sharply. "Out of balance" sounds so negative, it means nothing other than that fewer people are dying.
Globally, many countries are still in the middle of this transition. It is close to the end for the world as a whole, we are on the way to a balance that is really worth striving for. A look at the birth rate reveals that.
So the number of births is falling sharply, but with a delay, as expected. Why do women in the world have fewer and fewer children? The demographer Wolfang Lutz, who advises UN Secretary General António Guterres on the subject, blames better education above all for this. "In Europe, too, it took a long time not to plan how many children you would like. They just came because you had sex. The idea of limiting the number of children in marriage is a modern attitude from the 20th century. "
It must also be beneficial to have fewer children. If families make a living from simple agriculture, a lot of offspring is desired as a potential workforce. Economic change and urbanization - children are less useful in the city - lower the birth rate. In addition, there is a need for acceptable family planning methods, "there have been enormous improvements".
When the birth rate is 2.1 per woman, equilibrium is reached. We are on the verge of it. Does that mean we're sticking to around 7.5 billion people? No. Because the children who have already been born, grow up and grow old, are statistically "added" - they would have died earlier and thus out of the statistics. The Swedish health professor Hans Rosling called this a "fill-in effect". The UN estimates that around eleven billion people will live on earth in 2100, Lutz assumes that the summit will be lower.
The fact that the world population is increasing is primarily a very positive development. That's why I get so angry when people complain about it. Most women have as many children as they want. Because they have prospects, more and more people are opting for small families, far fewer of their children die too early, and fewer and fewer parents have to mourn their children.
But the story is not yet told completely. Let me make three counter-theses.
Counter thesis 1: There are still 700 million people in the world who are extremely poor, and even more are malnourished and unable to read and write. It would be easier to solve with fewer people.
Answer: In addition three things. First the thought doesn't make much sense, because people are there, and anyone who thinks there are "too many people" has to say how he or she intends to change that. Secondly the proportion of people who are extremely poor and malnourished or who cannot read or write has fallen massively - particularly sharply during the period when the world population increased massively.
Third: Many children do not lead to poverty, but poverty leads to many children. That is the basic statement of the researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. It is true that economist Gary Becker's thesis has long been that more children mean that they develop worse. But more recent studies do not confirm this, write Banerjee and Duflo.
Counter thesis 2: The problem is Africa. The number of people there is growing extremely rapidly, and in many countries the birth rate is still extremely high. This poses major political and social challenges.
Answer: The world's pin code is changing. This is how Hans Rosling put it. It is currently 1-1-1-4. One billion people in America, Europe, Africa, four in Asia. At the end of the century it will be 1-1-4-5, Asia is still growing a bit, Africa is quadrupling. Is that bad?
On the one hand, it is "normal" because Sub-Saharan Africa is still at the beginning of the demographic transition with a birth rate of five. India has quadrupled since World War II, and the country's standard of living has risen sharply at the same time. The same is true for Bangladesh. Although the situation is improving significantly in many African countries, the political situation is often still precarious. Unstable countries like Nigeria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo are forecast to quadruple by 2100.
Demographer Lutz: "Some countries are in a vicious circle. A chaotic government that does not invest in education means that the population grows particularly quickly, and that creates even more chaos. Many young people who see how well people are doing elsewhere but they can't find a job themselves, that causes unrest. "
Mauritius shows a way out: "The country was a prime example of a poverty trap, dire misery, environmental degradation, rapid population growth in the 1960s. Then there were campaigns to literate women, births were falling rapidly, and today it is one of the richest countries in Africa. "
Counter thesis 3: If billions of people want to achieve prosperity like in the West, the climate crisis is insoluble.
Answer: The solution to the climate crisis is not fewer people, but fewer people who live at the expense of our future. Otherwise Austria would be "overpopulated" at the moment, because, in contrast to all developing countries, we consume many more resources than we should. Who's here too much now? I? You?
The USA and EU countries are responsible for half of all human CO2 emissions. A world in which everyone lives the way we do is not sustainable, that's true. But it is also a world in which only we live the way we currently live, not sustainable. If the West manages to turn things around, it is a role model for the rest of the world - and then has technologies that make things easier for others.
In Europe our lifestyle, our economy and politics are the problem, in other parts of the world a lack of prospects and too little education. We should talk about that - and not about whether this planet is enough for any number of people or not.
If you liked the article, sign up for the newsletter above. I will get in touch when new posts appear out of the series. (Andreas Sator, February 10, 2019)
As I researched
I have always read interesting articles on the subject, especially in the books "Poor Economics" by Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo and "Factfulness" by Hans Rosling. Wolfang Lutz from IIASA took a lot of time on the phone and emailed tips to Jesus Cuaresmo Crespo from the Vienna University of Economics and Business.
If you want to find out more
Check out this video by Hans Rosling. Wolfgang Lutz wrote the book "Who Survived?" written, it was published by Campus. I haven't read it yet, but he said that everything we have discussed can be explained again there in peace. So I can recommend it with a clear conscience.
Sources for above article
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