Population Matters



There are many myths about population concern. Some are addressed below.

Myth: Contraception is widely available

For many around the world, family planning has intermittent availability or is difficult to afford. Often, there is very limited choice of methods or a lack of support from informed personnel.

Myth: Not all cultural preferences are identical — in some cultures large families are desirable for reasons of prestige, to aid the household economy or as support for old age

While it is true that some cultures stimulate the emergence of big families, economic arguments in favour of large households are becoming less important as population density increases and as societies become urbanised. Moreover, putting children to work obstructs their right to education and development. The case for smaller families has not been aired in many countries, so we support the use of mass media for educational purposes. Finally, many cultures that favour big families are patriarchal and we support the rights of women to play a full part in society and the economy.

Myth: We need more people to provide a market and stimulate economic activity

We cannot sustain endless growth on a planet of finite resources
Photo © Darin Oswald. Source: www.populationspeakout.org

We cannot sustain endless growth on a planet of finite resources. We need to overcome the emphasis on short-term ‘economic gain’ rather than investment in activities with long-term benefit. What we need is not more people but a gradual transition to a steady state economy.

Such an economy can be innovative and has sustainable scale, fair wealth distribution and efficient resource allocation. It is broadly in balance, but its volume is not growing. If all that was required for prosperity was growing populations, the Philippines and many African countries would be rich, not poor.

Myth: The best route to fewer births is to focus on improved women’s education, health and opportunities, rather than on family planning

We welcome these improvements, and they can lead to a lower birth rate. However, the link is not automatic and can work the other way: a lower birth rate improves maternal and newborn health, women’s education and economic and social opportunities. While these programmes should be integrated if possible, the provision of family planning should be integrated with other initiatives.

Myth: Reducing meat consumption is more effective than population stabilisation

While increased meat consumption has a great environmental impact, it is only one of many. Population Matters promotes mindful lifestyles alongside population stabilisation. Limiting meat consumption, in combination with reducing waste and optimising energy use, could reduce per capita consumption of resources significantly. However, the more people there are, the less resources there are for each individual.

Myth: If we all consume mindfully, we could accommodate 11 billion people

The more people there are, the more difficult our environmental challenges will be to tackleWhile it may be possible to change our consumption patterns to allow the world to accommodate 11 billion people, we could not guarantee a good quality of life for all. Resources are being rapidly depleted. We may use technology to create alternative solutions, but any technology relies on resources, and can be expensive. Moreover, there are resources such as fresh-water that are unique. The more people there are, the more difficult such challenges will be to tackle.

Myth: We need more young people to support an ageing society

Having more children (or immigrants) to support an ageing population leads to a growing and unsustainable pyramid of population as each successively larger generation becomes old itself and needs successively even larger numbers to support it. It is essential that the population stabilises and then gradually reduces.

Many elderly people contribute, while children have high dependency costs. Falling birth rates will reduce youth dependency. Reducing unemployment would further reduce dependency. Partial retirement would enable more elderly people to support themselves and continue contributing, and reduce the cost of pension provision during a demographic transition.

Myth: Having smaller families may lead to a skewed sex ratio

Future population growth will depend on rising longevity, access to family planning, whether women can make reproductive choices, and the choices they makeSex selection is an issue, but the solution to it is not to have larger families but to change the attitudes that favour boys over girls.

Myth: Isn’t the population stabilising anyway?

The growth rate is slowing, but the population is projected to grow to around ten billion by 2085. Future growth will depend on rising longevity, access to family planning, whether women can make reproductive choices, and the choices they make.

Next: Progress