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The Population Boon

A new analysis challenges the common misconception that population growth represents a major threat to sustainable development. In fact, the world’s population may peak much lower than expected, and it is consumption by the world’s wealthiest 10% that will remain the biggest obstacle to broad-based human flourishing.

OSLO – An easy way to start a long, heated debate is to mention global population. Thomas Malthus famously ignited furious arguments in the nineteenth century when he warned that, absent fertility-control policies, exponential population growth would outpace improvements in agriculture and cause recurrent bouts of famine and pestilence. Industrialization would postpone the crisis, but not forever.

These arguments were still raging in the 1960s, when Paul and Anne Ehrlich added fuel to the fire with their bestseller, The Population Bomb. Their fears were reasonable, given the data. By 1975, the global population doubled to four billion – in just under 50 years. It has just doubled again, reaching eight billion last November. This raises a new question: Will the population double again to 16 billion?

The answer is a resounding no. In fact, the global population will not get anywhere close to that level, owing to a paradigm shift in demographics over the past 50 years. The population growth rate peaked in the 1960s and has been falling steadily ever since. Women around the world are choosing to have fewer children, and the global average fertility rate is now just above two children per woman.

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