Despite that fact that not a single Malthusian prediction of doom and gloom has ever come to pass in reality, there are still people out there who believe that overpopulation is the greatest threat facing mankind. No, really there are.
These folks should be pleased with the news that slumping fertility rates are becoming a global trend:
Other pockets of the developing world also have seen sharp declines in fertility rates, including Brazil, Mexico and parts of India and Southeast Asia. Rising prosperity appears to be one catalyst. If the trend continues, the United Nations projects—in its "low-growth" forecast—that the global population will hit 8.3 billion in 2050 before declining to less than the current level of 7.2 billion by 2100. (Its "mid-growth" forecast projects 10.85 billion by century's end.)
Great news, right? Not so fast. While it’s easy to scare people with threats of overpopulation-depletion of resources, famine, war, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse basically-the dangers of declining populations aren’t as dramatic or easy to explain. But they are real.
Aging is occurring nearly everywhere, and it's happening faster than many people think," says Babatunde Ostimehin, executive director of the United Nations' population program. "If governments don't respond, they could end up facing a crisis."
Demographers such as Michael Teitelbaum at Harvard Law School and Jay Winter, a history professor at Yale University, note that already more than half the world's population lives in aging countries where the fertility rate is less than 2.1 children per woman—the rate required to replace both parents, once infant mortality is taken into account.
This is both an opportunity and a threat. On one hand, it could help preserve natural resources in nations that have been taxed by rapid population growth. But some economists blame a slowdown in population growth for contributing to such disparate events as the Great Depression and Japan's sluggish growth rates in recent decades.
Taking care of an aging population with fewer and fewer young people and anemic economic growth aren’t problems that are going to get the attention or generate the hysteria that overpopulation did (and still does???). They are however very real problems that more and more countries are going to face in the not too distant future.