The world’s population has undergone significant changes over the past century, with certain countries experiencing exponential growth while others face stagnant or declining numbers. This 2000-worded essay will explore the phenomenon of population expulsion, focusing on the cases of Belgium and the Philippines. By examining historical trends, demographic projections, and regional disparities, we can gain insights into the challenges posed by unsustainable population growth.
At the turn of the 20th century, Belgium and the Philippines had similar populations, both around 7 million people. However, by the year 2000, Belgium’s population had grown to 10 million citizens, while the Philippines boasted a staggering 76 million citizens. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, Belgium’s population will likely reach 12 million, but the Philippines will skyrocket to 127 million.
The growth rate in the Philippines during the late 20th century was 2% annually, leading to a doubling of the population every 35 years. However, it is widely recognized that such growth is unsustainable in the long term. Realistic scenarios suggest alternative projections, acknowledging the challenges posed by such rapid expansion.
Belgium, on the other hand, experienced a relatively modest growth rate of 0.46% during the same period. Despite this, even such modest growth exceeds the average growth rate of the human species as a whole. To achieve the current global population of 7 billion over 200,000 years, the average yearly growth rate should have been around 0.011%. Comparatively, Belgium’s growth rate implies reaching a population of 7 billion in less than 1,500 years. These numbers highlight the exceptional and untenable nature of current growth rates.
Although worldwide demographic growth rates are declining, they remain extraordinarily high, particularly in certain regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa. The absolute number of people in the world will continue to grow due to demographic inertia. Understanding the evolution of global population numbers is crucial for comprehending the challenges associated with population expulsion.
In sustainable terms, long-term population growth rates should not deviate significantly from 0%. Any growth rate above 0% has exponential implications, potentially leading to explosive population growth over time. Thomas R. Malthus recognized this issue in the late 18th century, predicting that population growth would eventually slow down either through increased death rates or decreased birth rates. Migration also plays a significant role in population dynamics on a local scale.
Malthus’s theories emerged in England at the end of the 18th century, coinciding with historically unprecedented population growth. The 19th century saw the global population exceed 1 billion for the first time. Subsequent decades witnessed even faster growth rates, with each additional billion added at increasingly shorter intervals. The current global population of 7 billion is projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, albeit with some uncertainty and a margin of error.
Demographic growth has not been evenly distributed across the globe. Initially, the population explosion occurred at a relatively moderate pace in Europe and America between 1750 and 1950. However, since 1950, Asia, Latin America, and Africa have experienced substantial and intensive population growth. Asia alone represents over 60% of the world’s population, with China and India accounting for a significant portion.
Looking ahead, Africa’s population is expected to grow at a remarkable rate, reaching 2.2 billion inhabitants by 2050. Meanwhile, Europe’s proportion is declining, and Latin America’s relative growth is constrained by the more substantial increases in Asia and Africa. The disparity in population growth mainly affects poorer countries, where over 80% of humanity resides. By 2050, this proportion is projected to increase to 86%, with the least developed countries experiencing significant population growth.
The global population explosion is closely linked to urbanization, with more than half of the world’s population residing in cities today. This proportion is expected to reach two-thirds by 2050. Latin America is the most urbanized continent, followed closely by North America and Europe. Population density has increased significantly, particularly in poorer countries, leading to overcrowding and resource strain.
While the world population will continue to grow in absolute figures for some time, the growth rate in large regions is decreasing. The richer countries already experience growth rates below 0.3%, and the global growth rate has decreased from over 2% in the past to approximately 1% currently. By 2050, a further decline to less than 0.5% is expected. However, the poorest countries still exhibit the highest growth rates, which are projected to decrease but not fall below 1.5% before 2050. Consequently, these countries will experience massive population growth in absolute numbers.
Causes Of Explosion: The Demographic Transition
The population explosion witnessed in developing countries since the second half of the 20th century can be attributed to the modern demographic transition. This transition refers to the shift from high birth and death rates to low ones, and many countries have undergone or are currently experiencing this transition.
In Europe, the transition began in the mid-18th century, when the region frequently faced high death rates due to epidemic diseases, failed harvests, and famine. However, advancements in hygiene and transportation infrastructure, such as canals and roads, contributed to a decline in crisis mortality. Additionally, improved child survival rates, including the eradication of diseases like smallpox through vaccination, further reduced the average death rate. Despite these improvements, the birth rate remained high, resulting in significant population growth. It was only toward the end of the 19th century that couples started to limit the number of children they had. The concept of a two-child household gained popularity, especially among the middle class. The Church’s reaction, reflected in the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), came too late to reverse this trend.
With the advent of widespread family planning and the introduction of modern hormonal contraceptives in the 1960s, the birth rate also began to decline. Today, European countries have achieved the end of the transition process, as their fertility rates have been below replacement level for several decades. The replacement level refers to the fertility level that would lead to a birth rate equal to the death rate in the absence of migration.
The population explosion observed in developing countries during the latter half of the 20th century occurred due to the more extreme and extensive nature of the demographic transition in those regions. Mortality rates declined faster than in Europe, as the understanding of hygiene and medical advancements already existed. The total fertility rate (the average number of children per woman) at the beginning of the transition was also significantly higher in many poor regions compared to Europe. For instance, South Korea, Brazil, and the Congo had total fertility rates of around 6 children per woman shortly after World War II, while Belgium had approximately 4.5 children per woman by the mid-19th century. Consequently, the population explosion in developing countries surpassed that of most European countries.
Scenarios For The Future
The demographic transition has entered its second phase in almost all countries worldwide, characterized by declining fertility and birth rates. Several Asian and Latin American countries have completed the entire transition, with fertility levels around or below replacement levels. For instance, South Korea currently has a fertility rate of 1.2 children per woman, making it one of the countries with the lowest fertility levels globally. Iran and Brazil have fertility rates similar to Belgium, ranging from 1.8 to 1.9 children per woman.
The future evolution of the population hinges on the further trajectory of the birth rate, which depends on two factors: the total fertility rate and population momentum. Population momentum, often overlooked in popular debates, plays a crucial role in understanding future population growth. It refers to the inertia in population growth that continues even after fertility rates decline. Therefore, while the world population will continue to grow due to population momentum, the rate at which it grows depends on the extent to which fertility rates decline.
Fertility rates are declining globally, albeit at a slow pace in Africa. The evolution of fertility rates remains uncertain in Africa, where the average number of children per woman is still alarmingly high. While there has been a decrease in fertility, the decline from 6.7 to 5.1 children per woman is relatively modest. There is considerable diversity in fertility paths among countries. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo) has seen a decrease in fertility from around 6 children per woman in 1980 to 4 children today, with an expected further decline to just below three in the next three decades. Niger, on the other hand, has the highest fertility level, ranging from just above 6.5 to just below 8 children per woman. The expected decline to 4 children per woman in Niger is uncertain and dependent on various circumstances.
The decline in fertility rates is evident worldwide, but the rate of decline varies across continents. Asia and Latin America have experienced similar declines, from 5.9 children per woman in 1950 to 2.5 at the beginning of the 21st century. Europe and North America, having gone through much of their demographic transition by the 1950s, have maintained fertility rates below replacement level for years. Africa has witnessed a decrease in fertility rates, but the average number of children remains high, ranging from 5.1 to 6.7 children per woman.
Child Mortality, Education, and Family Planning
Factors Influencing Declining Fertility
Two crucial factors contribute to the decline in fertility rates: child survival and education. The relationship between child mortality and fertility is strongly correlated. Countries with high child mortality rates tend to have high fertility rates, and vice versa. This correlation is due to a bidirectional causal relationship. In regions with high fertility rates, the chances of child survival are lower due to the limited resources and care available. Conversely, as child survival rates improve, fertility rates decrease as families have greater confidence in the long-term survival of their children.
It is important to note that the decline in child mortality precedes the decline in fertility rates during the demographic transition. The motivation for birth control is difficult to instill if parents do not have confidence in their children’s survival prospects. Thus, improvements in healthcare and child survival are essential factors in reducing fertility rates. Lack of access to quality healthcare contributes to persistently high fertility rates in countries like Niger.
Education plays a significant role in reducing fertility rates. It is not only a crucial humanitarian goal but also directly impacts fertility rates and child survival. Education has a dual effect: it promotes birth control and improves child survival rates. Numerous studies have demonstrated the strong correlation between education and fertility rates. Primary education can have an initial impact, but investment in secondary education yields even greater results. For instance, in Niger, women who did not finish primary school have an average of 7.8 children, while those who completed primary and secondary school have 6.7 and 4.6 children, respectively. Access to education for more women in Niger could lead to significantly lower fertility rates, alleviating the demographic consequences of high population growth.
Education empowers individuals to make informed decisions regarding birth control, fosters a forward-looking perspective, and enhances access to effective contraception. The influence of education on birth control is well-documented, with primary and secondary education playing vital roles in shaping fertility rates. Moreover, education contributes to the empowerment of women, which is crucial for successful family planning. However, it is worth noting that education should focus on providing knowledge and skills that enable individuals to take control of their own destiny.
Family Planning and Access to Contraceptives
Effective contraception is vital to achieving lower fertility rates. Information on the efficient use of contraceptives and improving their accessibility and affordability can play a significant role. Currently, an estimated 215 million women worldwide who desire contraception lack access to it. Investing in family planning services is crucial and can have a substantial impact, particularly for women in this underserved group. However, it is essential to address the underlying motivation for birth control. Merely promoting and increasing accessibility to contraceptives will have limited effectiveness if there is no intention to practice birth control. Motivation for birth control is influenced by factors such as high child mortality rates, low education levels, cultural barriers, and gender dynamics. Empowering women and promoting education can help overcome these barriers and facilitate effective birth control practices.
Population momentum refers to the demographic inertia or momentum that continues to drive population growth even after fertility rates decline. It is comparable to the momentum and inertia observed in physics. The direction and strength of population momentum are dependent on the age structure of the population. A population pyramid comparison between Egypt and Germany illustrates this concept. Egypt’s population pyramid has a pyramidal shape, indicating a larger proportion of younger individuals, while Germany’s population pyramid resembles an onion, with a more even distribution across age groups. Due to the large number of potential parents in Egypt’s younger generations, even if current and future generations significantly reduce their fertility rates, population growth will continue for some time. This positive momentum is driven by the increasing number of individuals reaching fertile ages each year. On the other hand, Germany has negative or shrinking momentum, as a declining number of individuals reach fertile ages over time.
Globally, population momentum remains positive, meaning the world population will continue to grow for some time even if fertility rates decrease to replacement levels. However, developed countries, particularly those with aging populations, experience negative population momentum. For example, Europe’s population momentum is -7%. The poorest countries, such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa, have the highest positive momentum, with rates exceeding 40%. These dynamics highlight the complexities of population growth and emphasize the importance of considering population momentum when examining future population scenarios.
Consequences of the Population Explosion
The population explosion has raised concerns regarding three interconnected consequences: growing poverty and famine, the depletion and pollution of essential natural resources, and migration pressure from the Global South to the Global North.
- Poverty and Famine: The association between population growth and poverty is multifaceted. While rapid population growth can hinder economic development and exacerbate poverty, it is crucial to acknowledge that poverty is both a cause and consequence of high population growth. Poverty and its related social circumstances, such as limited access to education and healthcare, contribute to high population growth. Therefore, poverty alleviation strategies should focus on addressing social factors to simultaneously reduce poverty and population growth. Famine is primarily caused by social, economic, and political factors such as unequal distribution of resources, rather than population growth itself.
- Impact on the Environment: The population explosion has undeniably had a significant impact on the environment. However, population size is only one aspect of this impact. The ecological footprint, represented by the I=PAT formula (environmental impact = population size x affluence x technology), emphasizes that population size is just one component. Affluence and technology play equally important roles. Consumption patterns and overconsumption in affluent societies, particularly in terms of resource-intensive activities like meat consumption and high carbon emissions, contribute significantly to environmental degradation. Addressing structural overconsumption in the world’s richest countries can have an immediate positive impact on the environment.
- Migration: The population explosion has resulted in increasing migration pressure from the Global South to the Global North. Economic disparities between regions and the pursuit of better economic opportunities are the primary drivers of migration. Economic development and increasing incomes in the Global South might initially increase migration pressure, as it is often the middle-class population in poor countries that has the means to migrate. This migration, driven by socioeconomic development, follows an inverted “J-shaped” curve. As development progresses, emigration rates tend to decline. Economic inequality, rather than population growth, remains the main driver of migration.
Addressing the challenges posed by the population explosion requires multifaceted strategies. Investing in education, healthcare, and family planning in developing regions, particularly in Africa, can significantly contribute to reducing fertility rates. Empowering women and ensuring access to education and reproductive health services are essential components of successful family planning initiatives. Additionally, tackling overconsumption and unsustainable consumption patterns in affluent societies can have an immediate positive impact on the environment. Understanding the complexities of population momentum and considering its implications in future population scenarios is crucial. Ultimately, a comprehensive approach that combines education, healthcare, family planning, and sustainable consumption is necessary to effectively address the consequences of the population explosion.