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World Population Reaches Five Billion

July 1, 1987 -

This summer, according to The Economist (June 13, 1987), total world population will reach five billion—that's double what it was in 1950, and one billion more than just thirteen years ago. Every day the total grows by 220,000 people.

Ninety percent of the population growth is occurring in parts of the world least able to sustain it, while the rich countries of Europe and North America are barely replenishing themselves. Though there are no rich regions in the fast-growing group, the earth can, in theory, support many more than five billion people. However, a healthy economy and a free and stable society are essential for overcoming poverty and malnutrition.

Whatever the relationship between the stage of economic development and population growth, experience in poor countries shows that direct attempts to curtail population growth are largely unsuccessful, except by the most draconian measures. Red China introduced a program of incentives and penalties aimed at imposing the one-child-per-family rule. One American demographer has estimated that from 1979 till 1982 some 250,000 female babies were killed in China, as parents preferred having a boy to a girl.

While people in poor countries continue to have large families for a variety of social and economic reasons, low birth rates in Western countries promise serious difficulties for the future. For example, studies by the International Labour Office show that by the year 2020, Holland will have 756 people over the age of 60 for every 1,000 workers, compared to 364 in 1985. It is obvious that such a phenomenal shift in demographic patterns will have a large-scale impact on a society.

The irony in present demographics is that many who are economically deprived desire large families, whereas many of the economically advantaged in the rich countries regard children as something to be avoided.