Population, Food, and Income

Population, Food, and Income

Global Trends in the Twentieth Century
August 01, 1994

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World population has increased tremendously in our century…and it continues to grow with extraordinary speed. This demographic explosion, however, has not plunged mankind into penury and deprivation. Quite the contrary: the global population boom coincided with an explosion of health, and of productivity, around the world. On average, the human population today lives longer, eats better, produces more, and consumes more than at any time in the past. And while dramatic—sometimes appalling—disparities in living standards can be identified between countries and within them, considerable evidence points to long-term improvements in the material condition of the most vulnerable elements in the world population. Despite a tripling of the world’s population in this century, global health and productivity have exploded.

*Global per capita calorie availability rose by nearly a third between the 1930s and late 1980s.

*Per capita food supplies rose by 40 percent in Africa, Asia, and Latin America during the same period of time.

*Per capita productivity doubled in India and Pakistan, increased ten-fold in Taiwan, and even parts of Africa enjoyed a tripling of per capita output between 1913 and 1989.

“Overpopulation” is a problem that has been misidentified and misdefined. The term has no scientific definition or clear meaning, the problems typically associated with overpopulation (hungry families, squalid and overcrowding living conditions) are more properly understood as issues of poverty. Though some blame dwindling natural resources for the reversals and catastrophes that have recently befallen heavily-populated, low income countries, such episodes are directly traceable to the policies or practices of presiding governments. Population trends and demographic data provide no basis for defining “overpopulation.”

*The current rate of annual, world-wide population growth is down to 1.6% and continues to fall from its 1960s peak of 2.0%.

*The average annual growth rate 0.4% for developed countries and 1.9% for developing regions. World-wide total fertility rates have been dropping since the early 1950s.

*Average fertility in the more developed regions has dropped from 2.8 to 1.7 children per woman. The less developed regions have experienced an even greater drop: from 6.2 3.5, or well over 40 percent.

*Global life expectancy more than doubled this century from 30 to 64 years, while global infant mortality fell from 170 infant deaths per 1000 births in 1950 to just 60 in 1990.

Rapid population growth has occurred not because human beings suddenly started breeding like rabbits but rather because they finally stopped dropping like flies. A “population crisis” which can be explained without any reference to demographic forces whatsoever is a crisis misdefined.