Peak population

For the first time in centuries, perhaps since the Middle Ages, experts are predicting an eventual limit for the world’s population. This is after decades of an exploding population and concerns about adequate resources, says host Mary Walden. “What has caused the turnaround?” she asks her husband, N.C. State University economist Mike Walden.

Mike Walden: “Well, the big change, Mary, has been the drop in the birth rate. In fact, medical care would actually argue the other way: Because medical care has improved, mortality rates have dropped. But the bottom line is that women are having fewer children. Now certainly contraceptive devices are part of the reason, but I think economics is also at work here.  Children are expensive. Latest data shows that, in the United States, it takes upwards of a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child to age 18. Traditionally, if you look at an agricultural economy, children are actually beneficial: They could do farm chores very young in life. My father did that. But of course we’re no longer a farm economy, at least in terms of where people work, so there’s not as much of a benefit to having children simply to put them to work in the household or on the farm. So, I think many families are saying, “Yes, we want children, but we certainly don’t want the number of children that we used to have in the past.” And then add on top of that the fact that many women of course, as people know, are now in the workforce. So time is a big issue for them. Now this drop in the birthrate, Mary, is not only in this country; it’s really worldwide. And that’s really what’s behind the expectation that actually world population is going to peak down the road, maybe in thirty years — and that will make a big change in terms of the questions about labor supply, as well as dependency ratios. Will we have enough people to support those in older age?”


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