Population Matters

Tanzanian president: “birth control is for the lazy”

Tanzanian president: “birth control is for the lazy”

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli caused a stir a few days ago when he urged women to stop using birth control. His claims that Tanzanian people who use contraception are “lazy” rightly sparked outrage across the world but they also instigated dangerous calls to halt foreign family planning aid.

Shocking claims

John MagufuliPresident Magufuli was speaking at a rally in in the northern Meatu district on Sunday 9 September when he called on people to ignore advice on using birth control as it was coming from “foreigners with sinister motives”.

The President – a populist who has clamped down on free speech in speech in Tanzania – said those who use birth control are “lazy” and “don’t want to work hard to feed a large family”. In 2016, Mr Magufuli also voiced his opposition to family planning, calling on women to “throw away” their contraceptives following the launch of free primary and secondary education.

Magufuli stated that his travels to Europe have shown him “the harmful effects of birth control” – a declining population growth rate. “They have no labor force”, the president said of European countries.

Tanzania has a total fertility rate of five children per woman and a population growth rate of 3.1%, making it one of the fastest growing nations in the world. Almost a fifth of Tanzanian women of childbearing age currently have an unmet need for family planning. Concerned campaigners worry that Magufuli’s ill-informed remarks may discourage those women who do have access to birth control from using it.

Out of step

President Magufuli’s comments are out of step with the views of many other African politicians and leaders. Egypt has recently launched a comprehensive plan to empower women and cut population growth. In Malawi, earlier this year, Minister of Finance 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”

Funding crisis

Tanzanian mother with 2 children
© Flickr user meaduva CC BY 2.0

The UK’s Daily Mail newspaper wrote a harmful response to Magufuli’s statement, asserting that foreign aid for Tanzania is going to waste. The UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) has budgeted £153 million in aid for Tanzania from 2018 to 2019, including significant investment in family planning services.

Many developing countries like Tanzania are already suffering from foreign aid withdrawal as a result of US President Donald Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Mexico City Policy or “Global Gag Rule”. The Rule blocks US federal aid for non-governmental organisations that provide abortions or abortion-related services, or even for any aid organisation that may mention abortion. This draconian measure has resulted in the forced closure of vital family planning clinics, driving up the number of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and avoidable maternal deaths, with African countries bearing the brunt of the damage.

In response to this catastrophic decision, the international community launched SheDecides, an initiative aiming to replace the lost family planning funding. Population Matters joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule. Enabling women to control their fertility hugely improves their quality of life and is one of the most effective ways to curb population growth.

Please support the campaign and encourage your government to provide additional aid for family planning in developing countries.

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Wildlife under threat – UK hedgehog numbers plummet

A recent large-scale hedgehog survey across Britain’s rural areas found an alarmingly low number of animals, bolstering earlier research indicating a steep decline. An iconic animal in the UK, the decline in hedgehog numbers reflects disappearing biodiversity under human pressure. That’s why Population Matters is joining our patron Chris Packham in his Walk for Wildlife in London this September.

Rapid decline

According to the study published in Nature, the little spiny mammals remain at only 22% of 261 rural survey sites across England and Wales. Alarmingly, not a single hedgehog was recorded in the Southwest during the two years of field work from 2014 to 2015.

Earlier this year, 57% of people responding to an annual survey by BBC Gardener’s World Magazine said they did not see a single hedgehog in 2017, an increase from 51% in 2016 and 48% in 2015.

It is estimated that UK hedgehog numbers have dropped from 30 million in the 1950s to under one million today, with a particularly pronounced decline in rural populations.

Why are hedgehogs disappearing?

Tractor spraying pesticides
© Aqua Mechanical CC BY 2.0

Widespread use of toxic pesticides has decimated invertebrate prey populations, while nest sites have been destroyed with natural habitat becoming increasingly fragmented. The rise in the number of roads as well as in road traffic to accommodate our growing numbers is also causing high hedgehog mortality and disrupting dispersal.

More humans, fewer hedgehogs

As with countless other species, there is an obvious link between hedgehog decline and our growing numbers. Traffic, pesticide use and habitat destruction are all driven by human population growth and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

The British public has selected the hedgehog as its favourite mammal – can we truly bear losing such a well-loved and iconic species? Not to mention the potentially disastrous effect its local extinction might have on our already damaged ecosystems.

UK’s biodiversity loss

According to the State of Nature report 2016, produced by leading conservation organisations, the UK is one of the most “nature depleted” countries in the world and is losing species at a higher rate than the global average.

Take Action

Chris Packham
Credit: Gerry Granshaw

Please join us and our patron Chris Packham in Hyde Park, London, on 22 September to demand urgent action to protect Britain’s wildlife. The People’s Walk for Wildlife is for everyone who refuses to sit back while our precious species disappear forever. Together we will raise a rallying cry that the government can no longer ignore. We will inspire and motivate each other to do all we can to stop and reverse the rapid erosion of our biodiversity.

See you there!

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Egypt seeks fewer babies: South Korea wants more

Nile basinEgypt’s government has announced welcome plans to curb its rapid population growth as part of its 2018-2022 medium-term sustainable development plan. Meanwhile, South Korea is adopting policies to increase its birth rate.

This move is a result of the government’s struggle to provide sufficient access to basic public services, including education, health care and housing, to its more than 99 million citizens.

The four year plan aims to reduce the growth rate from its current 2.65% to 2.1% by 2022. Importantly, the plan also includes targets for alleviating poverty and decreasing illiteracy.

Overcoming challenges

Currently, almost 30% of Egyptians live below the poverty line and the illiteracy rate is 20.1%. Illiteracy is higher for women, in particular in rural areas where an estimated 32.9% of females cannot read or write, a trend which is strongly correlated with high fertility rates.

As well as gender inequality, the government recognizes the challenge of overcoming religious and cultural resistance to birth control and is attempting to leverage Islamic media and leaders to raise awareness of the benefits of family planning.

Environmental damage

In addition to putting tremendous pressure on basic public services, Egypt’s large population is exacerbating environmental damage. Almost 60,000 acres of land are lost to soil erosion and housing construction every year while Egypt’s share of vital water from the overexploited and climate-stressed Nile has not increased since the 1950’s.

To avoid a looming catastrophe and improve the quality of life of its people, it is imperative that Egypt succeeds in its plans and raises its ambition. Proactive and compassionate family planning campaigns yield dramatic positive results and can help stabilize populations at sustainable levels.

South Korea calls for more children

Earlier this week, a study announced that South Korea’s fertility rate would fall to an all-time low of 0.96% this year, causing the media to proclaim the usual ‘looming disaster’.

South Korea’s population is currently just over 51 million, roughly half the size of Egypt. South Korea’s land area, however, is only one tenth that of Egypt. While South Korea does not face the same drought stress, it has its own multitude of environmental problems exacerbated by its high population density, including rapid deforestation, soil erosion, climate change, as well as air and water pollution.

Economists and the governments they influence fear underfunded pensions, plummeting GDP and increasing debt as inevitable outcomes of a low birth rate. Following a post-war baby boom in the 1950’s, South Korea launched a campaign to try to limit the number of children per woman to two. Now, just like China, the South Korean government is trying to reverse its declining fertility trend.

Pushing for more births is a short-sighted and ultimately counter-productive response to changing demographics in low fertility countries – driven partly by the power of ‘growth-at-all-costs’ economic systems. Ageing populations certainly bring challenges with them but with careful planning we can cope with them without inducing widely feared economic collapse.

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China may move to end two-child policy

The Chinese government may be steering away from its two-child policy amid concerns over the economic effects of a shrinking birth rate.

These rumours were sparked by a social media post from China’s state-run Procuratorate Daily, which revealed that all content on family planning had been dropped from the country’s draft Civil Code.

Chinese lawmakers stated on Tuesday that this does not mean family planning policies will be abolished and the revised code won’t be completed until March 2020, but experts believe that an end to birth restrictions is likely.

Human rights abuses

In October 2015, China announced that it would allow couples to have two children after a decades-long one-child policy introduced in 1979 with the goal of reducing population growth and accelerating poverty alleviation. Although there were a number of exemptions from the policy, which was enforced through financial penalties, it led to selective abortion and even infanticide in favour of male infants, as well as forced abortions and sterilisations.

The relaxation of restrictions has not so far brought about the increase in birth rate the government was hoping for, which is why it may be preparing to move away from forcefully limiting the number of children people can have altogether.

Misguided policy

Attempting to increase births to deal with an ageing population is not a sustainable solution, and the risk that China may now introduce further policies to encourage population growth is a deep concern. China is second only to the US in its carbon emissions and in combination with increasing affluence, population growth will contribute to further environmental harm.

Ethical solutions

Population Matters does not support coercive population control measures such as those employed in China, as these infringe on human rights, cause serious social problems and are simply unnecessary. Achieving a sustainable population size does not require implementing restrictive policies. Thailand achieved the same reduction in its total fertility rate as China by running a progressive and ethical family planning campaign. Between 1960 and 2015, the average number of children per woman in Thailand decreased from 6.4 to 1.5.

Graph showing Thailand's total fertility rate has decreased by the same amount as China's

By investing in female education and empowerment, providing access to quality family planning services and sex education and challenging norms favouring larger families, we can improve the health, well-being and environmental sustainability of all nations. This is why we strongly oppose President Trump’s move to reinstate and expand the Global Gag Rule, which has cut vital funding for family planning services across the globe. Please support our campaign to protect global family planning.

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Population growth puts green belts under housing pressure

A new report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) published earlier this month revealed that under current council policies, 460,000 new homes could be built on ‘green belt’ land in the UK, with 35,000 proposals submitted last year.

Greenbelts across the UK are at risk from new housing development
© Rossographer CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2018 State of the Green Belt report showed that more than 24,000 new homes were approved on greenfield sites since 2009 as part of a government move to release land for badly needed affordable housing.

However, only 27% of approved homes fit the government’s definition of affordable housing, which raises the question of whom they actually benefit.

With the UK population having topped 66 million and no end to growth in sight, housing pressure will continue to increase with dire consequences for human quality of life and the UK’s remaining countryside. The UK has been described by conservationists as “one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.

No homes for the young

According to a YouGov poll commissioned by Population Matters, housing shortages and increasing house prices were among the four biggest negative effects of population growth identified by respondents. In fact, the majority of 18-24 year-olds polled (23%) identified housing pressure as the single most important negative effect. Young people are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, with home ownership among the young (25-34 year-olds) having fallen dramatically in the past 20 years and renters falling further and further behind those who benefited from historically low mortgage rates.

Sustainable population, better housing

The poll revealed that 74% of adults are in favour of a national strategy for addressing population, while 64% think the projected growth rate is too high.

Building up the UK’s last wildlife refuges with increasingly expensive homes will not solve the housing crisis. We urgently need to move towards a more sustainable population size which allows a decent quality of life for everyone and reduces the pressure on our natural environment.

That’s why Population Matters is calling for the Government to develop a Sustainable Population Policy underpinned by best available evidence and recognising wider planetary responsibilities and human rights.

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Why isn’t one Earth enough?

Zombie video earthToday is Earth Overshoot Day – the symbolic day in the year when we have exceeded the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. Just seven months into 2018, according to calculations by the Global Footprint Network, we have already used the natural resources that it takes the planet a year to renew. At our current level of consumption and impact, we would need 1.7 planets to sustain us.

Earth Overshoot Day was created by the Global Footprint Network (GFN), to provide a tangible illustration of the extent to which we are outrunning our planetary resources. The earlier in the year the date is – the more we are overshooting what it can provide. Each year for more than 40 years, Earth Overshoot Day has moved earlier in the year – a sign that our demands are growing greater.

Humans depend on the Earth to generate resources such as wood and fertile soil, and to absorb our waste – especially carbon dioxide. GFN calculates how much the Earth can produce, and how much we are using. Each year, we are demanding more. Because it cannot renew its resources at the same pace as we are using them, each year the planet can provide less of them.

Population overshoot

Many factors influence when EOD falls. One of the most significant is population. GFN itself identifies population as one of  the root causes as our overshoot – and addressing it as one of the solutions:

If the average family size is half-a-child smaller in the future, i.e. if every second family has on average one child less, there will be one billion fewer of us in the world than the 9.7 billion that the UN expects by 2050 – and four billion fewer by the end of the century. Given increasing longevity, the end of this century is within the expected lifetimes of children born today.

“Reducing family size at this rate is equivalent to moving back Earth Overshoot Day by about 30 days, or one month, by 2050. Long-term benefits are even more striking. This continued reduction in family size would result in 50% more biocapacity per person in 2100. More biocapacity makes it easier to have thriving lives for all within the means of the planet.”

One Earth will be enough, if we can bring our consumption and numbers into line with what it can provide. We have no other choice.

Take action


In November 2017, 15,000 scientists signed a “Warning to Humanity”, explaining how indicators of environmental damage are all becoming worse. To avoid “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss” they called on governments to take action – including through improving family planning and working towards a sustainable population size.

Support the scientists’ warning and add your voice to the call for action here.

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Births and teenage pregnancies fall in UK

Fewer ChildrenIn 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.

Take action

Family planning services are currently under threat from central government cuts. Find out more about protecting contraceptive services.

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Population and family size – tapping into the zeitgeist?

Guardian graphic
Graphic from Guardian article, 20 June 2018

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 Münter and being childfree

credit: Alex Krohn

The announcement of our latest patron, racing driver and eco-activist Leilani Münter, in May was the trigger for many of the articles we have seen recently, beginning with an interview and leader (editorial) in The Times, backing in principle the goals and means of solving our population crisis through policies such as better family planning provision and women’s empowerment.

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 Families video, Anna.

What distinguished much of this coverage from some that has gone before was that it was in-depth and respectful, giving an opportunity to interviewees to explain their reasons in detail. Much of it also gave prominence to the case for smaller families and going childfree as a response to the environmental challenges we face.

The bigger picture

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.

The Guardian also featured a prominent report on the positive benefits of having a smaller family on climate change last year, entitled “Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children“.

Robin and our head of campaigns, Alistair, have been interviewed on many broadcast channels recently, including Sky News and TRT World.

Why millennials don't want kidsIn 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.

Take action

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.

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One-in-five UK mammals facing extinction – urgent action now

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.

The Red Squirrel is listed as critically endangered – photo by Malcolm Welch

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.

High brown fritillary butterfly
The high brown fritillary is possibly the most threatened butterfly in the UK due to habitat destruction

“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.”

Take action

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.

You can help us by following our Anthropocene campaign on Facebook and Twitter and share our posts and graphics. (You can find many other graphics on our infographics page).

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Three million more in 10 years. Is England’s growth sustainable?

Rush hour congestionThe 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.”

Take Action

The UK needs a Sustainable Population Policy. Learn more here.

Lern more about the UK’s population and its impact here.

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