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The pros and cons of a declining population

In Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, the authors argue that population decline has both positive and negative consequences

Archana K. Roy Published 15.11.19, 09:43 AM
According to the authors, the main reasons for the population decline are urbanization, women’s autonomy and the weakening of religious control

According to the authors, the main reasons for the population decline are urbanization, women’s autonomy and the weakening of religious control (Shutterstock)

In Empty Planet, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, argue that the global population will decline soon as a result of the rapidly falling birth rate below replacement level (less than two children per couple). They reject the Malthusian and Neo-Malthusian perspective of the crowding of the earth and argue that shrinking world population is the major event of the 21st century. ‘The population bust, not the population bomb, is our problem,’ they say.

Against the United Nations population projection of nearly 11 billion by 2100, according to authors, the world population will touch its peak between 2040 and 2060 — and then start declining. It will reach the present-day population of seven billion by the end of this century. In the two most populous countries, China and India, the population will reach its peak sooner than expected and then its decline will begin. India’s total fertility rate will soon fall below replacement level from its current level of 2.3 children per woman. Latin American countries have already accomplished the shifts from six children per woman to less than two children per woman in two generations only, while it took two centuries for Europe to achieve this transition.


According to the authors, the main reasons for the population decline are urbanization, women’s autonomy and the weakening of religious control. Urbanization, women’s empowerment, the opportunity cost of a child, the increase in the nuclear family system and single and burden-free lifestyles adopted by the new generation have put a brake on population growth. Authors found that in Europe, the uncertainty of the economy is a powerful form of birth control, while in Korea and Japan, gender norms, the double burden of work on women are the causes for the postponement of births. In Asia and Africa, the breaking of the traditional system along with higher aspirations of women for education and career have resulted in the delay in marriage and childbearing. Even the launch of pro-natalist programmes for mothers and children by the government could not revive the population growth in developed countries.

The authors highlight that population decline has both positive and negative consequences. The median age of the population is expected to increase from today’s 31 years to 42 years by 2100. This implies a need for fewer schools and a greater demand for the assisted living support system. Although young people would get more employment opportunities, higher wages, cheaper houses, they would also have to bear cost of geriatric care. Today there are 6.3 working age people to support one older person, which is going to decrease to 3.4 in 2050 and 2.4 in 2100. The authors have also included the perspectives in Japan, Korea and Thailand, where creativity, innovation and business growth have declined rapidly in the last few decades with the decline in the young labour force and creative manpower.

Population decline is a big thing, and we need to understand what is happening around us. The authors advocate the creating of space for migrants and young people. They have suggested the Canadian model of selective and controlled multi-cultural immigration to overcome the economic crisis caused by depopulation in developed countries. However, the migration cannot be a long-term solution to the global population decline as the countries which migrants are leaving may eventually face a similar situation of labour shortage and an ageing population.

Information gathered by the authors through interviews and interactions with people from different parts of the world are well documented in the book in support of the argument. Although the work has some methodological limitations, it is definitely a thought provoking and interesting volume and worth reading to understand demographic changes world over.

Empty Planet: The Shock Of Global Population Decline by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, Robinson, Rs 599

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