World Population Growth Slows

Published July 1, 1997

The population explosion so many professional doomsayers confidently predicted only a few years ago appears to be little more than a fizzle.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the world’s population grew by only 79.6 million people in 1996. While that may seem like an enormous figure, it is seven million fewer than the 86 million growth registered in 1994. And it is over 20 million fewer than the figure mentioned recently by Vice President Al Gore.

According to Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, the immediate reason for this decline is shrinking family size. Citing figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Mosher points out that the world’s total fertility rate–the number of children born to a woman during her lifetime–has declined to 2.9, the lowest level ever. In 1985, the world fertility rate was 4.2.

Mosher notes that there are now 79 countries–representing fully 40 percent of the world’s population–with fertility rates below the level necessary to stave off long-term population decline. Already 15 of them, including Russia, Germany, and Italy, each year, in Mosher’s words, “fill more coffins than cradles.” The “birth dearth” has spread from Europe to such unlikely suspects as Sri Lanka and Thailand.

While the population of portions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America will continue to grow in the decades to come, the rest of the world will soon be in “demographic free fall.” The world’s population is expected to peak at seven billion by 2030 and then begin a long descent. “Humanity’s long-term problem is not going to be too many children,” Mosher says, “but too few: Too few children to fill the schools and universities, too few young people entering the work force, too few couples buying homes and second cars. In short, too few consumers to drive the economy forward.”