For the last 30 years all of the population alarmists have been those deathly afraid of population growth, but around the horizon books and articles may begin to sound the alarm against depopulation. Already several articles in newspapers and magazines have touched on the depopulation, the most recent being Nicholas Eberstadt’s October 16 column in the Wall Street Journal, “The Population Implosion” (which is in turn an abbreviated version of an essay Eberstadt wrote for the Autumn issue of The Public Interest.)
Using recently revised population projections from the United Nations, Eberstadt notes that the United Nations estimates the total fertility rate for the developed world is a mere 1.5 and may fall to as low as 1.4 while in “less developed countries” the United Nations projects the total fertility rate will fall to as low as 1.6 in 2050.
The upshot of this is world population in the next century is likely to be a roller coaster ride. Population will continue to grow upward until the middle of the century when it will start shrinking, losing up to 25% of the world’s population every generation through the last half of the century.
Nothing in this is new; despite the doomsayers’ fears the United Nations projection has included this depopulation scenario for quite some time. What is new is that people are starting to look closely at what this will mean for the world. Eberstadt’s article is good, but it won’t be too long until counterparts to Paul Ehrlich show up warning us of the dangers of depopulation.
Eberstadt notes, for example, that if the projection is correct, Africans will outnumber Europeans by more than 3 to 1 (today the two continents have roughly the same population). The population in 2050 will also be relatively old. In the more developed countries such as the United States, there will be 8 times as many older people as there are children. In the extreme case of Italy, only 2% of the 2050 population will be under five years old while 40% of the population would be 65 or older.
Both trends, should they appear more and more likely to come to pass as time goes by, will likely engender the sort of sensationalistic books and claims that we’ve already seen with the overpopulation doomsayers. Lets hope we don’t vanquish the doomsayers next century only to replace them with equally nonsensical fears about depopulation.