Beyond Malthus: Nineteen Dimensions of the Population Challenge

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Authors: Lester Brown, Gary Gardner, Brian Halweil
ISBN: 0-393-31906-7
167 pages
April 1999

Should you be worried about world population growth? The birth rate is falling in many industrialized countries; in some cases populations are actually shrinking. But in many nations where the population has exploded in recent decades, birth rates remain high, and populations will likely double or triple in the next half-century. Nevertheless, these nations are showing the early signs of "demographic fatigue" —a slowdown in population growth due not to smaller families but to increasing death rates.

The burden of enormous populations is making itself felt: as governments struggle with the need to educate children, create jobs, and deal with the environmental effects of population growth, any new threat—such as AIDS or aquifer depletion—can rapidly escalate to disastrous proportions. The industrialized countries have held HIV infection rates among their adult populations to one percent or less, but infection rates area as high as one-quarter of the adult population in some African countries. With their rising mortality rates, more reminiscent of the Dark Ages than the bright millennium so many had hoped for, these countries are falling back to an earlier demographic stage with high death rates and high birth rates, and ultimately little growth in population. Events in many countries could spiral out of control, leading to spreading political instability and economic decline.

In examining the stakes involved in potentially adding another 3.3 billion people to the world population over the next fifty years, the authors of Beyond Malthus call for immediate expansion of international family planning assistance to the millions of couples who still lack access, and new investment in educating young people—especially women—in the Third World, helping to promote a shift to smaller families.