Population Matters

The ‘Demographic dividend’ effect

The ‘Demographic dividend’ effect

The demographic dividend can enable accelerated economic growthForty per cent of the population of the world’s least-developed countries (LDCs) is under the age of 15, and the total population of these countries is expected to double by 2050.

This poses great challenges, but if countries can lower fertility rates and reduce population growth, it also provides an incredible opportunity for accelerated economic growth.

This is the conclusion of Population Matter’s latest briefing paper, which examines the phenomenon known as the demographic dividend.

The term “demographic dividend” (DD) refers to the accelerated economic growth that a country can achieve when the proportion of its population that is of working age is greater than the proportion of its population that don’t work (e.g. children and the elderly). This population structure frees up household and state resources that would otherwise be used to support dependent groups and which can instead be invested to generate economic growth.

The briefing finds that in order to achieve a DD, countries with rapidly-growing populations need:

  1. Low fertility rates
  2. A healthy and educated population
  3. Female participation in the labour force
  4. A positive investment climate and appropriate infrastructure

Investment is needed in family planning services, sexual health and girls’ educationThe most important of these conditions is low fertility rates, as without this a country’s working age population will continue to have to support large numbers of children, thereby limiting resources available for investment.

The briefing concludes that to reduce fertility rates, and create the population structure necessary for a DD, LDCs must significantly increase investment in family planning services, sexual health and girls’ education.

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Childlessness is a positively unselfish choice

Life fulfilment does not depend on parenthoodAn increasing number of people are choosing a smaller family size, while many others decide to forego having children entirely. While the choice to remain childless remains subject to criticism by some, the topic of voluntary childlessness is increasingly up for debate.

In March 2016, a 30-year-old woman from London was granted the right to be sterilised, following a four-year battle with the National Health Service (NHS). Holly Brockwell’s long-fought victory was widely discussed in the media, and she received numerous negative comments.

In this briefing, it will be argued that the negative reactions surrounding smaller families, especially childlessness, are irrational.

The briefing will defend the right to choose one’s family size in various ways. First, acknowledged human rights allow people to choose their preferred family size. Second, the possibility of future regret is not a viable argument against respecting someone’s right to choose childlessness. Third, the obligation to act responsibly often leads to the conclusion that childlessness, or a small family, are better choices.

While those who choose to forego having children are sometimes labelled as selfish, no choice can truly be selfish when no one suffers directly from that choice. No actual child is involved when an adult chooses to stay childless.

Childlessness, or a small family size, is a responsible choiceMost adults who choose to remain childless do so after extensive reflection on their lives and on the state of the environment around them. Bearing in mind that population growth has devastating consequences for the quality and sustainability of the environment, it cannot be argued that the choice to have a small family, or to forego having children entirely, is selfish. It should, rather, be commended.

Thus, rather than criticising childless individuals, or opposing the trend of small families, people should open their minds to the fact that life fulfilment does not depend on parenthood.  The successes of many renowned childless individuals through the ages, and their significant contributions to our world, illustrate that perfectly.

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Teen pregnancy rates still too high

England and Wales still have some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed worldTeenage pregnancy rates in England and Wales are still among the highest in the developed world, despite being currently at their lowest point since records began. There is also significant disparity in teenage conception rates between areas, with some areas experiencing rates as high as 40 pregnancies per 1000 girls under the age of 18, while others have rates as low as five per 1000.

Population Matters has published a briefing paper examining teenage conception rates in England and Wales specifically, and considering the reasons for these large disparities between areas.

The paper finds that teenage conception rates have fallen due to, primarily, the implementation of a government strategy to tackle teenage pregnancy through improved provision of sex and relationships education (SRE) and increased access to contraception for young people.

Areas that have achieved the greatest reductions in teenage pregnancies have followed this strategy effectively, providing both good quality school SRE, as well as accessible sexual health services.

The paper concludes that while great progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) considers SRE to be “not yet good enough” and the UK government has introduced recent public health cuts that threaten to reduce access to sexual health services.

Teenage pregnancies impose significant costs on young mothers, children, society, the economy and the environmentTeenage pregnancies impose significant costs on young mothers, children, society, the economy and the environment. In order to reduce these costs, the state, and local authorities, must enhance the quality of SRE in schools and ensure that everyone who needs sexual and reproductive health services can access them.

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Population growth driving up UK living costs

The UK population is expected to grow to 70 million by 2027The UK population is expected to grow to 70 million by 2027, and this will affect the spending patterns of the government and households alike.

Currently, living costs in the UK place it among the top 15 most expensive countries in the world. Very few European states have a higher cost of living.

While expenditure differs across the nation, most UK households spend the majority of their income on housing, transport and recreation. Serious challenges related to population growth could increase these expenses dramatically.

This briefing will examine the cost of living in the UK, arguing that prices have increased over time and that it is probable that they will grow further due to increasing demand and impending scarcity of resources. Population growth will drive up housing prices, increase demand for energy, and create additional congestion of the transport system. The government may have to start charging for services that are now free — or it may have to increase taxes, as many local authorities are already doing.

While many problems may be overcome temporarily with extra funding, tax-payers will have to foot that bill. To minimise the harm that could cause, the government should see the population-related crises that are already occurring in some local authorities as an indication of what will happen in other areas if population growth continues unabated.

It must realise that policies to stabilise population growth are urgently needed to prevent this from happening.

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Population growth eroding natural amenities

Hedgehogs are facing extinction in the UK due to disappearing habitatWhile the UK was once predominantly covered with woodlands and moors, human activity and climatic changes have changed the landscape dramatically.

Population growth leads to higher housing demand, infrastructure expansion and greater energy consumption and waste production, all of which are damaging to nature. Population growth also increases the popularity of natural amenities for leisure purposes.

In this briefing, the loss of the UK’s various natural amenities will be discussed, as will their economic, social and environmental value. We will conclude that a further loss of nature would be devastating for the UK. It would cause great damage to the environment, have an adverse effect on well-being and increase public spending.

The integration of nature into new urban projects can improve the situation in part. Green roofs and inverted gardens in tube stations can create great environmental benefits in urban areas. However, there are certain losses that cannot be compensated for in this way. Children cannot play in vertical gardens, and reduced biodiversity cannot be fully restored in the city.

Population stabilisation is the only approach that will allow people to enjoy natural amenities fully in the future. Consequently, the government should embrace population stabilisation policies.

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Population growth putting public services under pressure

Education in the UK is under strain from unsustainable population growthFor many years, the UK has guaranteed quality education and healthcare, predominantly free of charge, for all its residents. Population growth has put a big strain on these two major public services. Schools cannot keep up with pupil numbers and face difficulties when recruiting teachers. The National Health Service (NHS) faces an increasingly large funding gap and has been forced to increase its waiting times.

In this briefing the challenges faced by both public services, and the consequences this has for society, will be explored. The great challenges posed by population growth are costly for the UK regardless of whether it responds. Investments to maintain quality would put a strain on the Treasury, but the UK could face immense long-term costs if the government fails to address the challenges appropriately.

It will be argued that while technological improvements and better lifestyle choices can improve the situation significantly, they cannot do so indefinitely. Ultimately, population size needs to stabilise, so that the UK’s residents do not have to accept lower-quality standards. Consequently, the government must promote policies that aim at population stabilisation.

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Population growth generating damaging levels of waste

As the world’s population size has grown, waste generation has increased rapidlyAs the world’s population size has grown, waste generation has increased rapidly. This has had a significant effect on humanity, wildlife and the environment.

As a result, governments have tried to replace traditional disposal methods, which result in pollution, with sustainable alternatives. Recycling rates keep increasing, yet projections indicate that we will soon be producing more waste than ever before.

In this briefing, waste generation and different disposal methods will be considered. We will conclude that, while landfills were traditionally popular, their negative side-effects have led to a move towards incineration and recycling. While the latter is a sustainable waste disposal method, it cannot limit waste generation indefinitely. It can only reduce avoidable waste levels, but a large proportion of waste is unavoidable.

We argue that the total accumulated waste levels can only be minimised if population levels are stabilised or reduced. In the meantime, sustainability policies and technological advancements can reduce the generated waste per capita, and restore some of the damage that is already caused by excessive waste levels.

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Animal agriculture harming the environment

A well-known by-product of animal agricultureGlobally, 56 billion land animals are reared and slaughtered annually for human consumption, and this number is expected to double by 2050. The animal agriculture sector is responsible for 18 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions through clearing land to graze farmed animals, growing feed, providing water, and processing and transporting the end products.

The inefficiency of animal agriculture in utilisation of agricultural resources and emitting greenhouse gases is unsustainable with an increasing world population. The majority of the increase in population will occur in the developing countries, which have higher levels of population growth, urbanization and rising per capita income. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global meat consumption will continue to increase till 2030, driven by population growth in developing countries.

In this briefing, we discuss the inefficiency of meat consumption and its impact on the environment, the animal welfare issues surrounding intensive animal farming, the growth in demand for meat and the relevance of population growth. We report that the animal agriculture sector is responsible for emitting nine per cent of global carbon dioxide, 35 – 40 per cent of methane, 65 per cent of nitrous oxide and 64 per cent of ammonia. It is further responsible for 55 per cent of erosion, 32 per cent of nitrogen and 33 per cent of phosphorous load in freshwater resources.

This increase in global greenhouse gases is driven by population increase and evolving food consumption patterns across the world. Although an increasing number of meat-eaters are shifting towards a vegetarian or vegan diet in the developed countries due to ageing populations and growing health awareness, the same demographic and cultural factors do not fit for the developing countries, where there is a steady growth in the consumption of meat.

We conclude by emphasizing that developing sustainable farming methods, reducing consumption of animal products and stabilizing population growth are key factors in alleviating the burden that animal agriculture places on our environment.

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Population linked to unsustainable energy consumption

Solar panel on roofLarger populations, industrial developments and more wealth have increased energy demand greatly. Currently, the world relies predominantly on fossil fuels that are not only harmful for our environment but also limited in supply. The UK mainly uses gas and coal to generate electricity for its citizens, but has gradually been investing more in renewable energy sources.

In this briefing, the characteristics of different sources of energy will be considered. It will be argued that the UK is rightfully investing in renewable energy, and consequently it is successfully reducing its carbon emissions. Despite this investment, however, the UK is not expected to be able to successfully reduce CO2 emissions in the long run, due to increased energy demand as a result of population growth.

The UK will also be adversely affected by global population growth, which will increase global energy demand, causing environmental problems. Climate change transcends borders. To tackle this issue, the government should stimulate the use of renewable energy sources internally whilst also promoting population growth stabilisation both nationally and internationally.

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Water challenges in the world and the UK

The world faces an increasing demand for water, but a declining supplyWater consumption has increased rapidly in the last hundred years. Yet, fresh water is not an unlimited resource. The world faces serious water-related challenges, with the prospect of increasing demand and declining supply. Population growth, affluence, pollution and climate change are all seen as causes. In addition to water scarcity, flooding is predicted to become increasingly problematic and damaging in coming years.

In this briefing, the different causes for water scarcity are considered in more detail. Over-usage, pollution and leakages affect water quality and quantity directly, but climate change and urbanisation create great problems as well — problems with far-reaching consequences for humanity, wildlife and our environment.

We conclude that technological developments and sustainable life choices can reduce water consumption levels per capita, but that these ultimately will not be sufficient. As population stabilisation is the only permanent solution for the problem, it is important that the government incorporates policies that promote it in its water strategy.

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