Saturday, 9 August 2008

Population growth

The Independent has a great article today on population growth and covers a huge amount we introduce at S grade and Higher. Int 2. Read the summary here and the original article if you can because this comes up a lot in exams!
A country's population is determined by three things: how many people are born, how soon they die and how many leave or enter the country.

A leading medical journal recently called for British couples to stop having so many children to 'reduce global warming'. But much of the rest of Europe has a different problem: declining birthrates and ageing populations. A child born today in the UK will be responsible for 150 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a child born in Ethiopia. When Thomas Malthus first published his gloomy Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798 he had others than himself in his sights. Human populations grow exponentially whereas food reproduction expands in a linear fashion (it's the difference in maths between multiplication and addition) so disaster always looms, in the shape of disease, war or famine, to balance the population out. The magic figure for demographers is 2.1 births per couple. That, allowing for the fact that some girls die before they reach child-bearing age, is the figure at which a population replaces itself. In Europe the last time that fertility was above replacement level was in the mid-1960s. But now, for the first time on record, birthrates in southern and eastern Europe have dropped below 1.3 – well below the 1.5 which the United Nations has marked as the crisis point. If things continue the population there will be cut in half in just 45 years. In Italy, one recent survey put it at 1.2. Cities such as Milan and Bologna recorded less than 1, the lowest birthrates anywhere. Things are as bleak in Japan. There the total fertility rate declined by nearly a third between 1975 and 2001, from 1.91 to 1.33. The average family size has remained the same, but there are fewer families. Half of Japanese women have not married by the age of 30, and 20 per cent of them are not marrying ever.
But it is not just the developed world. The birthrate is plummeting in east Asia. China's rate is down from 6.06 to 1.8 and declining. South Korea has slashed government spending on birth control. Singapore is now offering tax rebates to couples with more than two children. Japan is piling money into nurseries and childcare.
There is still rapid population growth in many parts of the world. Birthrates are still very high in Africa. At their peak in the 1970s Kenya had a growth rate of 4.1 per cent, which was doubling its population every 17 years. The rate is down but 11 African countries still have a whopping growth rate of 2.6 per cent a year. Populations in Uganda, Burkina Faso and Congo will treble or more by 2050. And India is set to leapfrog China as the world's most populous nation by 2050 when its population is expected to top 1,750,000,000 people. (China will be 1,400 million, and the third biggest, the United States, around 420 million.)
But in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia birthrates, which declined steadily between 1900 and 1960, are creeping up again. In the UK, despite a rapidly declining population in Scotland, the overall fertility rate is 1.8 and rising. In Holland it is 1.73. Sweden's has risen to 1.9, with the rest of Scandinavia at 1.8.
The usual story is when people are poor they have lots of children. When half your kids die before they grow up and you need to have lots to make sure there is someone to look after you in old age. If it takes one person all day to plough or weed the fields, or fetch the firewood, or find grazing for the goats, or carry the water and pound the grain, then you need a big family. And if there is no contraception available you don't have much choice anyway.
But when you get richer family sizes start dropping. The health of your children improves. You have savings for your old age. Girls go to school, get jobs outside the home, marry and have babies much later. Contraception becomes available. You move to the city where you don't need so many children to do the household chores. Make people richer and the population falls.
Not everyone believes this though. Twenty years ago fertility started to decline in Nepal and Bangladesh when they were still poor. Korea wasn't rich when fertility declined. By contrast the Gulf oil states continued with high birthrates long after they got huge wealth.
There's been an extraordinary change in 20 years and it comes from a combination of factors - It is delaying the age at which women marry. It used to be 14 or 15; now it's 21 or 22. Another factor is the success of NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations]; 20 million households in Bangladesh have access to micro-finance, and in half of them, the money goes to the women. Then there has been education for girls encouraged by programmes that gave cereals to families whose girls went to secondary school and 'cash for education' female stipends." Bangladesh has now surpassed the Millennium Development Goal on education and now has more girls in secondary education than boys.

Low-birth Europe is faced with an ageing population, a pensions crisis, later retirement, changes in work patterns, shrinking cities and a massive looming healthcare cost. Nations of children with no siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles – only parents, grandparents, and perhaps great-grandparents – will face the burden of paying for the care of a massive older generation. Meanwhile high-birth Africa will remain stuck in a vicious circle unless it gets economic growth, agricultural reform, improved world trade terms, infrastructure investment, better health and education systems, more girls into school and a wider availability of family planning.

Baby boom?

Here are some interesting statistics. The 'replacement' fertility rate, to maintain population, is 2.1
Iraq 4.3
UK 1.8
USA 2.1
Afghanistan 7.1
Hong Kong 0.95

What does the future hold?
Read the whole of this excellent article on this here.

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