U.S. Attitudes on Population

Scott Connolly, Katie Elmore, and William Ryerson

Our planet faces a "perfect storm"of unprecedented challenges, including climate change, food and water shortages, and a severe energy crisis. But while the urgency of addressing these issues is undisputed, many people in the United States fail to understand how overpopulation aggravates these problems.A recent nationwide Roper Poll commissioned by our organization, the PopulationMedia Center, found that the knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of the U.S. public on the issue of population are ambivalent or even contradictory. As it turns out, this is a clear reflection of mainstream media coverage.

World population grows by 78 million annually and that stark fact has received some notice. For example, on March 14, 2008, the Financial Times of London proclaimed, "Africa's Greatest Challenge Is to Reduce Fertility." Three days later, the Associated Press headlined, "Egyptian President Says Unrestricted Rise of Population Affects the Quality of Life." On March 24, the Wall Street Journal chimed in with "New Limits to Growth Revive Malthusian Fears. "And in late April, the Washington Post announced, "Birthrates Help Keep Filipinos in Poverty." And in response, some concerned people are speaking out. For example, in his Message for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama said, "One of the great challenges today is the population explosion. Unless we are able to tackle this issue effectively, we will be confronted with the problem of the natural resources being inadequate for all the human beings on this earth."

But although impressive progress has beenmade in reducing birth rates, this success has been interpreted by many journalists as the onset of a new crisis. By calling reduced fertility "The Birth Dearth," the reporters have shifted the emphasis to too few young people and a possible decline in human numbers sometime in the next 50 to 300 years.