Sunday, December 7, 2014

But won't the population explode?

NaturalGuy and I have a fairly diverse group of friends, and several of them feel very strongly that bringing children into the world is morally wrong, because there are already too many people in the world, and many of these people already live without the resources needed to thrive. How can it be right to add one more mouth to feed, when people are already hungry?

We've been asked this frequently, in part because Natural Family Planning is perceived as ineffective. To address the perceptions of NFP's effectiveness, check out the FAQ. Suffice to say that a couple using NFP can plan to have zero, one, or two children about as reliably as couples relying on barrier methods or the pill.

But the other reason we've come across this question is that we'd like to have children above the "replacement rate" of two. We certainly can't know now how those children will come into our lives - adoption is certainly a possibility, which would not contribute to population growth. However, we'd be more than happy to have more than two birth-children, and we certainly wouldn't consider it immoral. Why? Because we don't believe that birth control is the only thing standing between us and an overpopulated world.

Will the population really grow uncontrollably?

In 2004, the United Nations Population Division ran a series of long range population projections, and these projections do not show the population growing uncontrollably, but rather, show the population leveling off. These projections predict a peek world population of 9.22 billion in 2075, followed by a decline, and then slowly reaching a steady 8.97 billion by 2300 (page 1).

Of course, these projections are only estimations, and they assume that current trends continue. But the fact that they are based on current trends is enough to say that we are not currently set on a path to global overpopulation.

What is the current birth rate globally?

In 2004, the birth rate was an estimated 3.11 children born per woman globally. If current trends continue, this will fall to 2.04 by 2050. This is below the replacement rate. 

Birth rates vary tremendously by country - in 2014, Niger had an estimated birth rate of 6.89 children/woman, while Singapore had a birth rate of 0.80 children/woman.

What is the birth rate in the U.S.?

The U.S. has a birth rate of 2.01According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. birth rate in 2013 was at all time lows. Additionally, the total number of births has decreased for six straight years, from a peak in 2007. 

What factors contribute to lower birth rates?

Many factors have been shown to influence the birth rate, among them:

  • Availability and use of contraceptives
  • Female employment
  • Infant mortality rate
  • Economic situation
  • Social/religious beliefs
  • Typical age of marriage
Individual couples take many factors into account when deciding if they want to try for another child.

In the U.S., later age of marriage means that many couples have fewer married years in which to have children. The financial crisis, poor job recovery, and student loans have made it difficult for young American couples to feel stable enough for children.

In many third world countries, especially in rural areas, contraceptives may be unavailable. Couples often want more children, and young marriages provide more fertile years. Tragically, many parents are faced with the loss of their children to disease. This distorts the birth rate statistics - it makes the birth rate high, while the number of living children remains low.

How do governments influence birth rate?

Many governments provide incentives to have or not have children - for example, American couples with children pay lower taxes. These policies do not neccessarily aim to change the birth rate, but the do provide some support to families - decreasing the cost of children may allow couples to have more children.

China's "One Child" policy has dramatically decreased the birth rate in China. Contrary to the name, the policy allows many families more than one child. The policy involves fines for couples who have more than the approved number of children. There are also reports of forced abortions. The policy has been successful at decreasing the birth rate . In the 1980's before the policy was implemented, the birth rate was 2.63 births/woman (already reduced from 5+ births/woman in the early 1970's). In 2009, the birth rate had been reduced to 1.61 births/woman.

Romania implemented policies to raise the birth rate in the 1960's - including making contraceptives difficult to obtain, forced gynecological exams to ensure reproductive health,  taxing childless couples and single adults, and rewarding families with many children. These efforts raised the birth rate from 1.43 births/woman when the policy was implemented in 1966, to 2.74/woman in 1967. Many families were unable to support more children, leading to child abandonment.

In both China and Romania, state involvement in family planning lead to terrible human rights violations and long term social repercussions. 

How does a low birth rate effect the population?

When birth rates are below replacement rates, it can lead to problems. The population ends up with more old people, and fewer younger people to replace them. This can lead to economic problems, as well as trouble with providing care to the elderly (ie. older adults do not have children to care for them, and because there are fewer young workers, there are fewer doctors, nurses, and caretakers to care for the elderly). 

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