The year of six billion
Math of population
Problematic projections
Unsatisfied demand
Was Malthus right?


Image courtesy of the
United Nations
High Comissioner
for Refugees




3 person family
Why 6 billion?

Unmet needs hamper population control
A common explanation for population growth is the desire for a large family in the third world reflects the absence of a public safety net. In many countries, children are not just another pair of hands in the fields, but old-age insurance and a pension as well. woman and baby

Actually, it seems that much of the increase reflects an unmet need for family planning services. According to the World Bank, 120 million married or coupled women would like such services -- but can't get them. That's a "pretty rubber number," says Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau, because many of the people who are surveyed do not even know about family planning.

Still, it represents a large opportunity for those who fear rapid population increase. John Bongaarts, vice-president and director of policy research at the Population Council, says, "One reason we have population growth is that women are having children they don't want." About one-third of overall population growth, he says, is attributable to this unmet need.

What are the barriers to using family planning services? Even if women know about family planning, they may be unduly fearful of side effects, Bongaarts says, or husbands may object to contraception helping wives to cheat on them. Cost can be a major obstacle, helping explain why birth control pills are used by only 14 percent of all women who use contraception. 4 person familyGlobally, Bongaarts says the most popular method is female sterilization (38 percent of women), the intrauterine device (21 percent), and the condom (9 percent).

The price tag for worldwide needs for contraception was estimated by the Cairo conference on population and development at $17 billion.

A new spin
The unmet demand for contraception puts a new spin on the contention that rich nations advocate birth control to reduce the population of under-developed nations. Bongaarts says, "It's the other way around. If you don't give women the choice of implementing their preference, you are imposing your will." The goal of international population groups, he says, is to help women have only children they want.

Bongaarts says the recognition that more children will survive, combined with the time and money needed to raise them, account for rapid declines in population growth in Mexico, Thailand and elsewhere. "Women and families are much more inclined to have fewer children," Bongaarts observes, "so they can send their children to school." And education, we know, is a potent stimulus to reducing population.

So are we going to be able to feed everybody?

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