In 2017 fewer children were born in England and Wales, with the number of live births falling from approximately 696,000 in 2016 to 679,000 in 2017, according to the latest report from the Office for National Statistics, ONS.
The ONS figures show that the total fertility rate – a measure of how many children women can be expected to have [glossary]- has fallen from 1.94 in 2012 to an average of 1.76 children per woman. Even though it is higher than Europe’s average of 1.6, the trend for smaller families continues in the UK.
The latest UN World Population Prospects report shows that fertility in all European countries is below replacement level [glossary] of around 2.1 children per woman, on average. It is, however, likely to increase from 1.6 in 2010-2015 to 1.8 in 2040-2050.
Age at first birth increases (Older mothers)
There has also been a substantial reduction in the number of women who give birth under 30 years old, with the ONS ascribing the decline to factors such as ‘increased female participation in higher education and the labour force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising costs of childbearing, labour market uncertainty and housing factors being responsible’.
The only age group in which fertility rates are increasing is women aged 40 and above. Despite this, the average age at which women have their first baby is now 30.5, compared to 26.4 in 1975.
The proportion of children born to non-UK born mothers is 2.06 per woman. Foreign-born women make up an increasing share of the female population of childbearing age.
Teenagers are having fewer children
The most significant percentage decrease in fertility rates in 2017 was for women aged less than 20 years – declining by 7.3% in 2017.
Almost at the same time as the release of ONS report, another study has found that teenage pregnancies are now at their lowest level – down a remarkable 50% since 2007. In the latest report released by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, teenagers were found ‘to be more sensible, more focused on their education and future careers and wanted to avoid pregnancy.’ In fact, two-thirds of the teenagers (16-18) surveyed said they had never had sex while 24% never had drunk alcohol.
According to the ONS, in 1971 the under 20 age group had a high birth rate at 50.6 Per 1000 live births, which has fallen to 12.7 in 2017. In our Sustainable Population Policy, we call for actions to reduce family size further, including high quality sex and relationships education and properly funded family planning services.
The past few months have seen an unprecedented level of attention on population and family size in the media. With articles in The Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC and many other outlets, could it be that this long neglected issue is finally getting the attention it deserves?
Population and the impact of family size on our environment has been a neglected area of debate in mainstream media for decades now. Indeed, it has been seen by many as a taboo, or an opportunity to condemn those who campaign on the issue, without even investigating what we actually believe and seek. Over the last year, welcome signs of greater openness to mature discussion have been visible, and over the last month, an avalanche of media has focussed on the value of being childfree.
Leilani’s explanation of why she has personally decided to be childfree then caught the imagination of numerous media outlets, with interviews with her, with Population Matters and with childfree individuals and couples appearing in multiple major outlets. Among many of those interviewed were friends of PM who we had linked up with journalists, including our board member Emma and one of the people featured in our recent Smaller Familiesvideo, Anna.
Recent media coverage has not simply focussed on individual choices, however. Following its publication of a letter on the subject from our director Robin and patron Jonathon Porrit last year, The Guardian produced an in-depth piece (linking to us) on the population challenge and recently published another letter from Robin two weeks ago.
Robin and our head of campaigns, Alistair, have been interviewed on many broadcast channels recently, including Sky News and TRT World.
In addition to coverage in traditional media, social media has also been galvanised by the issues. Population Matters’ Twitter page has seen 60% growth in less than two years, while among many successful posts on our Facebook page, one sharing this graphic, by Cultura Colectiva, has been viewed over 4 million times.
Breaking the media taboo
One of the most significant articles published recently is by Peter Singer, one of the world’s most influential philosophers, and co-authors from the US and Uganda. Its headline in the Washington Post is “Talking about overpopulation is still taboo. That has to change.” There are promising signs that it is.
For a small organisation like Population Matters, social media are among the most effective ways we can spread our message. please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share our content. You can also find graphics and memes on our website here, which you can share directly yourself.
A recent study has found that one in five mammals in the UK face extinction. Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and disease were identified as main factors. PM patron Chris Packham has warned that the UK faces “an ecological apocalypse” – but one we can fix.
One fifth of UK mammals face extinction
The Mammal Society issued a study reporting that 20 per cent of wild mammals in the UK face extinction, with 165 species critically endangered.
The study is the first comprehensive review of the population of British mammals in 20 years. It identified climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and disease as main drivers – all of which can be tied to population growth. “Now obviously we’re living in a country that’s changing enormously – we’re building new homes, new roads, new railways, agriculture’s changing – so it’s really important we have up to date information so we can plan how we’re going to conserve British wildlife,” explained Prof Fiona Mathews, chairwoman of the Mammal Society.
Prof Fiona Mathews called it a “mixed picture”. While some species are doing well, probably because they’re not being persecuted in the way that they were in the past, others that tend to need a specialised habitat are dwindling.
“So what we need to do is find ways in which we can make sure that all British wildlife is prospering,” Prof Mathews says.
Britain is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world
Two days prior the publication of the study, in an article in The Guardian, Population Matters patron Chris Packham warned that the richness of wildlife can now only be seen in nature reserves, while the wider countryside is stripped of life.
“It’s catastrophic and that’s what we’ve forgotten – our generation is presiding over an ecological apocalypse and we’ve somehow or other normalised it.”
Since 1970, when Packham first became interested in wildlife, Britain has lost 90 million wild birds. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”. Recently, Germany revealed having lost 76% of all flying insects since 1989 which was echoed shortly after in Australia.
We are now finally seeing the effects of decades of losses, Packham remarks.
Chris Packham is calling for people to join him next month on a 10-day “bioblitz”. He and his team will be visiting wildlife sites in the UK to highlight the extent to which the nation’s wildlife is under threat. “We need people to stand up and say we want action now. We have the ability to fix our countryside.”
Our situation is grave but we can take action. But action will only be taken if people understand the need for it. That is why Population Matters is calling on organisations which educate the public about the natural world to step up to the challenge of informing people about the current crisis and what we can do to end it.
The population of England is expected to grow by three million people by 2026, according to the latest release from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The population of every region in England is also projected to increase by mid-2026, with London set to grow fastest.
Based on the 2016 population estimates, England’s overall population is expected to grow from 55.3m to 58.5m over the following decade, a rate of 5.9%. London’s anticipated population of 9.5m will be 8.8% higher than it was in 2016.
Almost every local authority in England is expected to grow.
“Growth not inevitable”
In a media statement, our director Robin Maynard said:
“We’ve become so used to these projections that we almost don’t notice their scale any more – but this is a total of 3 million people over less than a decade, affecting every single local authority in England. Public services and infrastructure are already stretched beyond their limits. Only a fantasist could believe that they have the capacity to accommodate this level of growth in demand.
“Population growth is not an inevitability. The government has tools at its disposal to manage immigration, influence & nudge people towards smaller family size, and plan ahead for the increased cohort of elderly people. It’s time they used those as part of a humane, effective and integrated strategy to achieve a level of population that is in everyone’s interests.”
Where people come from
The ONS also released annual statistics detailing the proportion of the UK population born outside the UK. 9.4 million people were born outside the UK (around one-in-seven of the total population) and 6.2 million UK residents are not British citizens (one-in-ten). 3.6 million people born abroad now living in the UK are British nationals.
In his statement, Robin Maynard said:
“People who live in Britain, wherever they are originally from, have a far greater environmental impact than most global citizens. Smaller families are essential to achieving a population in the UK which our natural environment and infrastructure can support. People in less affluent countries tend to have more children and when they migrate to more affluent countries like the UK, although their fertility rates usually match the norm in time, they push up average family size at first. We need to foster the understanding across British society that larger families are environmentally unsustainable, whether that is in the Royal family or one that has just stepped onto our shores.”
The UK needs a Sustainable Population Policy. Learn more here.
Lern more about the UK’s population and its impact here.
May 22 is the International Day for Biodiversity. In 2018, it comes as the recognition that we are living through the Sixth Mass Extinction is growing widely. As we celebrate biodiversity, it is under greater threat than ever before. Is all lost, or can we turn things around?
Human impact on biodiversity
A recently published study has revealed that humans constitute less than a ten-thousandth of the weight of all living things on Earth. Bacteria account for 13%, plants 82% and all animal life just 5%, with humans a fraction of that. Despite the insiginificance of our physical presence, it also calculates that humanity is responsible for eradicating 83% of wild mammals, and half of all plants.
Climate change remains one of the gravest threats to biodiversity. This month, another study was published, predicting that half of insect habitats could be lost unless further carbon emissions cuts are pledged by nations.
Last year, a group of scientists, including Population Matters patron Paul Ehrlich, described the level of species extinction that is currently taking place as “biological annihilation“.
Hope for biodiversity?
In April, a scientific paper was published, offering some hope. From bottleneck to breakthrough argues that the pressures that have driven our decline in biodiversity will soon ease, and a smaller, wealthier, more urbanised population will put less pressure on wild habitats, be free to consume more responsibly and be in a position to foster the recovery of species and biodiversity.
The paper’s optimism derives from a bold prediction that “100 years from now, the Earth could be inhabited by between 6 and 8 billion people”. That conjecture is based on a deep allegiance to the theory of demographic transition, which assumes increasing prosperity leads to lowered fertility (ie family size), operating in a virtuous cycle bringing birth rates down and reducing population. The authors identify urbanisation as another factor contributing to increased decline in fertility rates.
Demographic transition is not happening everywhere, however, and without effective family planning and education will simply not take place. Indeed, the authors’ population figures are significantly lower than the lowest UN’s projected “95% certainty” range for the end of this century. They are possible to achieve, but not without concerted effort. The authors do not call for such effort, relying instead on the belief that such changes are inevitable.
No hope without action
The paper offers a vision of a future in which population pressure is so reduced as to offer hope for recovery in our living systems .However, threats to biodiversity are extreme and time is running out. As the authors themselves put it, “the profound danger is that by the time the foundations of recovery are in place, little of wildlife and wild places will be left.” Their theory is speculative, and very unlikely to come about under present policies. But action can be taken.
A new report examining the impact of child marriage in Ethiopia has highlighted the many devastating impacts it has on individuals and society. More than one-in-three girls are married below the age of 18 in Ethiopia. Girls married young have larger families, increasing population growth as well as making it more difficult for their families to escape poverty.
The reportEconomic Impacts of Child Marriage: Ethiopia Synthesis Report was published by the World Bank and the International Center for Research for Women, and partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It describes how child brides are “often robbed of their rights to safety and security, to health and education, and to make their own life choices and decisions”.
As it does across the world, child marriage increases family size. According to Modern Diplomacy:
“In Ethiopia, about four out of five early childbirths (children born to a mother younger than 18) are attributed to child marriage. The report estimates that a girl marrying at 13 will have on average 24 percent more children over her lifetime than if she had married at age 18 or later. Ending child marriage could reduce total fertility rates by 13 percent nationally, leading to reductions in population growth over time.”
The report estimates that higher GDP per capita from lower population growth could inject close to $5 billion into the Ethiopian economy by 2030.
The report’s author, Quentin Wodon of the World Bank, said “ending this practice is not only the morally right thing to do but also the economically smart thing to do.”
The global picture
More than one-in-five girls are married below the age of 18, and 650m women worldwide were child brides. In Niger, the country with the world’s highest fertility rates, three-quarters of girls are married under the age of 18. Campaigning organisation Girls Not Brides identifies that “at its heart, child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior to boys and men.”
The announcement of the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge last year was greeted with criticism, as well as congratulations. Some commenters noted that with a soon-to-be family of three, the heir to the throne and his wife were out of step with the move towards small families for sustainability reasons. Population Matters offered our own comment in the national media.
With the arrival of the latest royal baby yesterday, we issued this statement from director Robin Maynard to the press.
Population Matters statement
“We welcome the Cambridges’ baby boy to the world and wish him a long and happy life. But sadly, not every child born today will have such good life chances – and our growing human population and its impacts on our planet are making life for everyone more challenging.
“Only last November, over 15,000 scientists from across the world issued a “warning to humanity”, bluntly stating that unless we change our ways, we face environmental catastrophe. The scientists didn’t hesitate to identify rising human population as a principal driver, or to propose the solution: ‘It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most)…’
“Of course, as individual families, we love and cherish our children – but we also need to love and cherish our planet, for their sake and that of future generations. Family size is not just a matter of personal choice, the impacts of an extra child on wider society and our planet should also be considered. Our good wishes and congratulations to the Duke and Duchess: we hope they will do their part to protect their new son’s future, and that of all children born today, by choosing to add no more new people to our rising population.”
Factfulness, the new book by the late Hans Rosling and his family is rightly receiving a great deal of attention. At Population Matters we commend Hans Rosling as a brilliant communicator and a person dedicated to improving the lives of people across the world. We also strongly share his belief that understanding facts and data is essential to solving the challenges we face.
In that spirit, we offer the following facts, which run counter to Prof Rosling’s popular but shakily founded position that population isn’t a problem and future population growth will effectively sort itself out. We believe that he was only able to maintain that position through neglecting environmental problems, over-simplifying population data and placing his faith in demographic theories that haven’t been proved and technological solutions that haven’t yet been invented.
At Population Matters, we maintain that making a better life for everyone – a goal we share with the Roslings – requires concerted action on population, not assurances that it isn’t really a problem.
Fact One: There could be far more than 11 billion people in 2100
The UN offers a range of projections for population growth, of which 11.2bn people in 2100 is one possibility. The UN’s 95% certainty range for 2100 shows a maximum of nearly 13bn and a minimum of under 10bn – a range of nearly 40% of the current global population (7.6bn). The top projection shows almost no decline in rate of growth by the end of the century.
Further, according to the 2017 World Population Prospects report, “for countries with high levels of fertility, there is significant uncertainty in projections of future trends, even within the 15-year horizon of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and more so for the projections to 2100 [emphasis added].”
Fact Two: Very small differences in family size make major differences to future population
According to the UN, variations in global population size caused by even small changes in the size of families are very significant. For example, If there is just half-a-child per family more than the UN’s medium projection expects, our population in 2100 could be more than double what it is now – if half-a-child less, it would be smaller than it is now.
Fact Three: Without concerted effort, even achieving 11.2bn will not be possible
The UN’s medium projection is not what will happen if we let things carry on as they are. The UN’s 2017 World Population Prospects report states:
“To achieve the substantial reductions in fertility projected in the medium variant, it will be essential to support continued improvements in access to reproductive health care services, including family planning, especially in the least developed countries, with a focus on enabling women and couples to achieve their desired family size.” [Emphasis added.]
Fact Four: Global fertility won’t fall if governments work to make it go up
A number of governments are now encouraging or incentivising larger families. These include Iran, South Korea and China.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, however, has said he has “absolutely no worries” about Japan’s low birth rate and high ratio of older people, describing it as “an incentive to increase productivity”.
Fact Five: Education and economic development are not enough
Hans Rosling is absolutely right that women’s empowerment, education, lifting people out of poverty and contraception are essential to bringing down family size and reducing population growth – but of those, what actually does the practical work is access to and provision of high quality, effective family planning services. Countries which have introduced active family planning programmes which provide services, education about contraception and actively encourage smaller family sizes see greater falls in fertility than the average for developing countries.
Growing evidence also suggests that Prof Rosling’s reliance on the theory of “Demographic Transition” – in which countries moving out of poverty experience lower fertility rates – is misplaced. While the pattern was strong in the history of many currently developed countries as they moved out of poverty, fertility rates are falling so slowly and haltingly in a number of Least Developed Countries that demographic transition is barely happening at all.
Fact Six: The current human population is demanding more resources than the planet can provide
Focussing on population growth, as the Roslings do, broadly assumes that population is not a problem now and the issue is stopping it becoming a problem later. That conclusion can only be reached by neglecting resource and environmental concerns.
Population – and associated consumption, especially in the developed world – is a driver of multiple environmental problems now: further population growth will exacerbate the problems.
Fact Seven: Human population correlates to major environmental problems
Fact Eight: More people, more climate change emissions
People emit carbon. Gross disparities exist in the CO2 emissions of citizens of different countries but high population can drive high emissions even where per capita output is low. (Indian per capita emissions are a fraction of those of the USA but it joins the US as one of the world’s top three carbon emitters.)
A key study published in 2017 by the Universities of Lund and British Columbia argued that the single most effective long-term measure an individual in the developed world can take to cut their carbon emissions is to have one fewer child (which will also have an ongoing effect by creating fewer grandchildren and descendants).
Another major international study by Project Drawdown in 2017 identified practical policy measures that could be taken to minimise greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Project Drawdown analysed more than eighty policy options and identified family planning and educating girls as among the top 10 workable solutions to combat climate change available today. Project Drawdown calculated that together, these would reduce CO2 emissions by 120 gigatons by 2050 — more than onshore and offshore wind power combined.
Their enormous positive effect is a result of their role in reducing family size and population growth.
Fact Nine: More people, less wildlife
As human population has increased, the number of both animals and animal species has shrunk dramatically.
Fact Ten: Not everyone is as relaxed as the Roslings about population
A growing scientific consensus is emerging about human population impacts upon our planet:
In November 2017, 15,000 scientists signed on to a “warning to humanity” which identified population as a “primary driver” of environmental destruction
Sir David Attenborough has spoken frequently about the issue. In an interview this March he said: “The natural world is steadily being impoverished. The situation is becoming more and more dreadful and still our population continues to increase. It’s about time that the human population of the world came to its senses and saw what we are doing – and did something about it.”
A paper published in Nature Ecology and this March identified population growth and high consumption as the “main drivers” of biodiversity loss
Meanwhile, leaders from the Global South have repeatedly expressed concerns about the impact of population growth on their economic developments:
In November 2017, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the United Nations Special Representative to West Africa and the Sahel said:
“In [the] case of Africa, so far…population grows faster than the economy, and countries cannot cope with the increasing demands for basic social services such as water, sanitation, education, and health.”
In 2018, Executive Director of the Ghanaian National Population Council, Dr. Leticia Appiah said the government must “incentivize small family size. You have to make small family size attractive and a norm.”
In 2017, Malawi’s Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Goodall Gondwe, said: “The high population is exerting a lot of pressure on our economy. As a country we have made tremendous gains over the years but the impact is not reflected on our economy because the gains have been dissipated by population growth”
Pakistani Prime Minister Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi recently told a delegation from the country’s population council that population growth was the country’s “major challenge.”
The global crisis we face is too great to allow hope and theories to solve it. We hope these facts will help to increase the demand for action that will make a difference.
Sir David Attenborough has urged the public to recognise the impact of the plastic age and population growth on the natural world. His concerns are backed up by a recent report from Australian scientists identifying population as a key factor in biodiversity loss.
Sir David Attenborough, the impact of population growth and the plastic age
In an interview with New Scientist, Sir David Attenborough discusses his concern for rising population. With more than three times the number of people living on the globe as in the 1950s, he notes that “they all need places to live and roads for their cars and hospitals and schools and places to grow food…In the most part, it is going to come from the natural world, so the natural world is steadily being impoverished.”
Coupled with the issue of resource depletion is a thriving global plastic market, which once was a scientific miracle and now is a global waste disaster. According to Sir David, the vast nature of this issue demands a worldwide political agreement.
Biological diversity hit by human population and consumption
A recent study of plunging biodiversity also highlights the impact of population.One of the study’s authors, Euan Ritchie of Deakin University, commented:
“It’s often a taboo topic to talk about human population size and family planning and how much we consume as individuals,but if we don’t address these issues in the context of biodiversity conservation and sustainability then we’re largely kidding ourselves.”
Environment and Policy Researcher Professor Sarah Bekessy from RMIT University in Australia explains, “I think we need to keep industry accountable for their biodiversity impacts…Industry is allowed to literally kill threatened species and eliminate their habitat and it’s all OK because we can offset it somehow.”
As the worst contributor to mammal loss, Australia must begin to locally address leading contributors including urbanisation, agriculture and extractive industries such as mining.
These are all consequences of population pressure and high rates of resource consumption. After an assessment of the 2020 targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) — the world’s central conservation strategy, researchers concluded that many of the global biodiversity conservation aims known as the Aichi targets, are inadequate and lacking key indicators to measure the effects of these issues.
Professor Bekessy asserts that this pressing conservation crisis is driven by people. Therefore, global awareness and a human-centered approach to policies are necessary to create a sustainable world for the young people of tomorrow.
Leaders from the Global South continue to speak out about the implications of population growth. Recent news reports have indicated rising concern among politicians, experts and UN officials in the developing world.
While reasons for concern over population growth differ according to specific countries, they all point to one thing: that our global population is continually rising beyond the Earth’s capacity, and left unchecked will lead to faster deterioration of resources. The following articles add greater emphasis to previously reported concerns in Malawi.
Population the “main challenge” in Pakistan
A recent article reports that the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Khaqan Abbasi, has expressed his rising concern for unchecked population growth in Pakistan in a meeting with a delegation from the Population Council.
Mr Abbasi highlighted the need for immediate attention of the provincial governments to family planning:
greater investment for enhancing access
quality of service delivery in this sector especially for the people of far-flung areas
integration of these programmes with health service delivery programmes at grass root levels
Small families in Ghana
Citinews posted a recent article summarising Ghana’s national concern and developing efforts to combat population growth.
In reaction to reports that Ghana’s population hit 29.6 million, Executive Director of the National Population Council, Dr. Leticia Appiah, proposed that Ghana begin to emulate other developing countries in incentivising small families in order to manage the country’s fast growing population.
Population concerns in Sub-Saharan Africa
In November, senior African UN official, Dr Ibn Chambas, raised continent-wide concerns at a meeting in Accra. The Representative of the United Nations General Secretary to Western Africa and urged Afrcan leaders to prioritise the population challenge. “Being the most rapidly growing part of the world, sub-Saharan Africa’s one billion people will surge in the next 50 years to two billion and three billion and reach an estimated 3.7 billion in 2100, right behind Asia’s four billion by then.
“In case of Africa, so far…population grows faster than the economy, and countries cannot cope with the increasing demands for basic social services such as water, sanitation, education, and health. Although urbanization is needed for the transformation of African economies, its rapid pace adds to the stress on the economy.”
Family planning in developing countries has been hit hard by recent cuts in US overseas aid. Learn more and support the campaign.