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There are 5.3 billion people currently living on our planet and this number is

expected to double within the next 40 years.1 Of the world?s 5.3 billion people 4.1

billion live in less developed nations, which also have higher growth rates than more

developed countries.2 Less developed nations currently make up 77% of the world?s

population and this number is expected to increase to 83% by 2025.3 This means

more people, living poor. In the time it has taken you to read this far, the number of

people living on this planet has increased by 504.

Overpopulation is becoming an increasingly serious problem as the space on

our planet becomes more crowded and our limited resources are used up.

Overpopulation causes famine, environmental damage, and plagues. Overpopulation is

caused by many factors, but mainly poverty. Overpopulation is a difficult problem to

solve, but it can be reduced through education and birth control.

Historical Perspective

Scientists estimate that human beings first made their appearance on earth

100,000 years ago.5 For the greater part of this time they lived very primitive lives,

and growth in population was very gradual. The human birth rate was high, but high

death rates kept the population under control. Infants had high mortality rates, people

were lucky to survive childhood, and those who lived to adulthood died much sooner

than people of the 20th century.6 High death rates were caused by wars, famine and

malnutrition, but mostly disease. Some diseases had devastating effects on the

population, like the bubonic plague, or the Black death, which killed more than one in

every four people in fourteenth century Europe.7

For thousands of years the population grew slowly until the birth of Christ.

Between the birth of Christ and 1500, the world population doubled with a rate of

increase of about 0.1% per year.8 There were some rapid growths in the population

before the 1700s, but most were localized. Italy?s population grew rapidly during the

Roman Empire, but soon fell after its collapse.9 By the late 1700s the population

began to grow faster and faster until it was doubling every 35 years.10 It hasn?t been

until recently that the population explosion that began in the late 1700s began to


No one is quite sure what caused the rapid population growth that began

around 1750. This rapid growth coincided with the start of the Industrial Revolution,

and some say there may be a link.11 Before the Industrial Revolution industry was

limited to small manufactories run by windmills, watermills or by muscle power.12 The

Industrial Revolution brought steam engines that could be used to power machinery in

larger factories.13 At around the same time in Europe vast improvements were being

made in agriculture. New farm equipment and advancements in farming techniques

gave farmers the ability to produce more food with less people.14 Many people moved

from rural areas to urban areas to work in the growing industries. Cheap housing

structures were made to accommodate the growing urban population and cities grew

larger. The Industrial Revolution began in England and shortly after spread to the rest

of Europe and then to North America.15

The Industrial Revolution lead to the growth of cities and a drastic change in

family life, but was it responsible for the population explosion that it coincided with?

During the Industrial Revolution people moved away from rural areas to urban areas

which provided them with squalid living standards.16 Death rates in urban areas were

much higher than in the country, and only a slow increase in birthrate was recorded in

England between 1700 and 1800.17 The Industrial Revolution increased the wealth of

the countries it occurred in. Not everyone became wealthy during this time, the

working class was still poor, but the Industrial Revolution saw the creation of the

middle class.18 Although not everyone shared in the wealth of the country, the

average wealth per capita increased . Living conditions slowly improved in the 19th

century, and increased output by farmers reduced malnutrition, which together helped

reduce the death rate.19

At around that time progress was made in medicine. Doctors began to

understand the causes of diseases like cholera and typhoid that caused epidemics and

found ways to prevent them.20 Vaccinations were discovered to fight smallpox and

other deadly diseases, people began to live longer, healthier lives.21 The death rate in

England dropped between 1750 and 1850 until the death rate fell in half between 1850

and 1900. At the beginning of the 19th century there were 9 million people living in

England, which rose to 18 million in 1850, and then to 32 million by the end of the

century.22 This was the result of a lower death rate in adults. At the beginning of the

20th century the death rate of children fell, which caused the population to increase

later when they grew up and had children.23 Hence; the last century saw an enormous

growth in industrialized countries which is now recurring in the rest of the world as it

becomes industrialized.

Current Problems

Population growth is divided in the world; industrialized countries are growing

at very slow rates and less developed countries are growing at rapid rates.24

The reasons for the divided population growths between industrialized

countries and underdeveloped countries could be because children are more necessary

to the prosperity of adults in less developed countries than those of industrialized

countries.25 In industrialized countries there are fewer reasons to have lot of children.

Children in industrialized countries are more likely to survive childhood than children

from less developed countries because of better nutrition and health care. As countries

grow larger and more prosperous, pensions and social security programs are

introduced to help support the elderly, and care for the sick.26 It is not as essential to

have many children in richer countries because people do not need them to support

them as much when they get old.27

Populations in North America and Western Europe are growing very slowly as

a result of economic prosperity. The population explosion that was spawned in the

Industrial Revolution is over, but it is just beginning in the rest of the world.28

The populations of less developed countries are growing very rapidly like the

population of Europe did last century. Over a third of the world?s population lives in

only two countries; India and China, with a combined population of 2 billion people.29

The United Nations predicts this number to increase by 200 million by the end of the

century. Other underdeveloped countries like Kenya and Syria have even higher

growth rates. Their populations grow at an average of 4 percent a year. A 4 percent

growth rate may not seem very high, but it means their population could double every

17 years.30 Even if the populations do not grow as much as expected, they will

continue to grow as long as large families are necessary to support the parents when

they get too old to work. The pressure to procreate is also caused by many religions

that value large families. However bleak this sounds, it is beginning to change.

Underdeveloped counties are slowly becoming developed, and with that comes

better education, better medical care and a better standard of living, which have all

brought low growth rates to the developed world. As countries become more

developed women begin to gain more power, giving them the right to have as many

children as they want. Even if the birth rate hits rock bottom tomorrow there are so

many children being born now, that will have their own children, populations should

continue increasing for many years to come. It is hard to estimate where the world?s

population will peak, but many social scientists believe that it won?t stop its rapid

growth until it is at least twice its current number.31

The world is not overcrowded it?s just that the population is concentrated in

small areas and sparse in other areas. If the world?s population was spread out over

the surface of the earth, it would not seem overcrowded at all.32 There are many

places like Mexico City where you can go that are extremely overpopulated, and

others where you can travel for miles without seeing a single soul.

Satellite pictures of the Earth from space show dense population in cities,

surrounded by large areas with very few people.33 Why does this occur?

Before the mid-1700s farms provided most people with work. Breakthroughs

in farm machinery displaced the need for many people to work on farms.34 The

population, at this time, was growing rapidly. Young people could not find much

work in the rural areas they were raised in so they emigrated to cities in search of

work.35 Unfortunately, there weren?t enough jobs or houses for the young in cities, so

they moved to overcrowded slums. Some cities become overcrowded because of their

economic prosperity. In Hong Kong, there is so little space that buildings have to be

made tall to house all the people in the country.36 If all people were spread out over

the world equally, each person would have an area of 98.4 thousand square feet.37

Famines in Africa and other places are not caused because the world cannot

produce enough food for everyone, it?s because the world?s food supply is not equally

distributed. Some countries have to much food, while others have too little. This is

partly due to local wars or political conflicts which prevent farmers from growing their

crops and transporting food where it is needed.38 Advancements in farming

techniques and machinery have kept the amount of food produced far ahead the

growth in populations.39 Between 1970 and 1980 the food production around the

world increased at an average rate of 2.5 percent a year, while the growth in

population averaged at only 1.8 percent per year.40

The revolution of food production that occurred in the seventies was partly a

result of the development of new and stronger strains of wheat and rice that created

higher crop yields and had a better ability to resist diseases.41

Food shortages are not the only resource problem that the growing population

faces. Industrialized countries use vast amounts of energy to maintain their technology

intensive life-style.42 Industrialized countries burn fossil fuels to make electricity to

power factories, to light and heat homes, and to power cars, trains and planes.43

There is a very limited amount of fossil fuels on earth, and the limited nature of

fossil fuels is causing problems as more people are using them.

Preventing Overpopulation

As it was stated earlier, the populations of developed counties around the

world are growing at very slow rates. It was only one hundred years ago that the

developed countries of Europe were experiencing the same growth as the less

developed countries of today.44 This is happening because couples in developed

countries are, for some reason, deciding to have smaller families. It is possible that the

low birth rates in developed countries occurs because children are not a necessity in

them, children are not needed or allowed to work.45 Children in developed countries

are also very expensive to support; they have to be fed, clothed, and demand luxuries

like video games that children in other counties probably cannot even dream of.

The reasons for having large families have disappeared in developed countries,

which has lead to a drop in birthrates. Some people choose not to have children at all,

others have two or three, keeping the population at a stable level.46

The populations of developing countries are still growing at alarming rates, and

it may not be wise to expect their growth to level off naturally like populations have in

the developed world. It could be difficult for developing countries to raise their

standard of living with such high population growths. It costs too much money to

provide education, health care, adequate food and shelter for the young when there are

so many of them.47

Another factor that allows developed nations to keep their populations under

control is because of the wide range of birth control methods that are available.48 This

allows couples to prevent unwanted children. There is also a lot of education on how

to use the wide range of birth control methods available, which allows a couple to

choose which one is most suitable for them and how to use them effectively. Even

though there are some countries with religious objections to birth control, families can

plan their families quite well without using birth control.

Most people are free to decide how many children they want to have, but are

prevented from having larger families because of financial pressures, or can be

pressured into having larger families by their religion.49 Some developed countries

even face underpopulation, and governments of these countries encourage people to

have more children. These countries include Germany, France, Hungary, Romania,

and Bulgaria.50

There are many methods of birth control available around the world.

Populations cannot be controlled, however, just by having these products made

available. People must be made aware of these products and educated on how to use

them. They must also be kept within a price range that allow the mass society to

afford them. The most common contraceptives in developed countries are condoms

and birth control pills.51 They are easy to use, and are generally pretty effective.

Other more controversial methods include sterilization and abortion. Abortion is still

not accepted by many countries that are still heavily regulated by religious values.52

Whether you object it or not, from a medical point of view it does not harm the health

of the mother too much, and with moral objections aside; it is a good way to control

the population.53

It is not an easy task to introduce birth control methods into societies that have

valued large families for thousands of years. Families in less developed countries are

usually very tight-nit and interdependent entities; where the grandparents look after the

children while the parents go out to work.54 However, it appears as though things are

changing; improvements in health care are allowing people around the world to live

longer and healthier lives. Education is improving too, people around the world are

being taught about the advantages of smaller families, and about ways of limiting the

size of their families.55

Better medical facilities are a key element to family planning programs.56

Medical care must be brought to every village, and available to every person in the

village. The health of the family is improved and the children grow up stronger and

healthier. Another key element in making this successful is having sufficient food,

which is easier to obtain when there are fewer children to feed.

China?s population has grown to become the most populated country in the

world. It grew from 542 million in 1950 to 891 million in 1973.57 Many Chinese

leaders did not think that it was necessary to limit population growth after the second

World War, thinking that the large population would not affect China?s economic

stability.58 By 1957 Chinese leaders began to realize that the population was growing

way too fast. The government instituted birth control programs shortly after, but were

hindered by the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966.59

In 1972, the Chinese government created a more ambitious target for

themselves; to keep the population from growing beyond 1.2 billion by the end of the

20th century.60 To accomplish this goal, the government initiated a program that

would promote one child per family, and would achieve this goal through education

and persuasion.61 The government made contraceptives more available, and free of


An additional action that the government took to achieve their goal was to

raise the minimum legal age for marriage to 22 for men and 20 for women.63 The

same law also obligated married couples to practice family planning. A survey of the

birth control practices of Chinese couples estimates that 70 percent of Chinese couples

use modern contraceptives.64 Improved heath care in China allowed couples to end

unwanted pregnancies by having abortions. In 1984 there were 18 million babies born

in China and 9 million legal abortions.65

The measures that China is taking against overpopulation may not be

acceptable in other countries, but have been very successful in China. The birthrate in

China has been cut in half since the 1960s, reducing the population growth to only 1.4

percent a year.66 Even at these rates, the Chinese population will still grow by 200

million by the end of the century.67 Chinese population planners hope to reduce their

population even further by 2030.68 Birth control programs have been extremely

successful in China compared to other countries in the world.

Birth control campaigns in Egypt have been complete failures. Its population is

average for a Middle Eastern country where high population growth is very

common.69 Egypt was the first Middle Eastern country to establish a family planning

policy and the first Muslim country in which religious leaders did not oppose such birth

control campaigns.70 The Egyptian government began setting up family planning

clinics as early as 1955 and made contraceptive available in stores all over the country

as well as in health centers.71 The government also started campaigns to improve the

education of women and increase their employment opportunities.72 The problem was

that religious leaders did not approve of abortion or sterilization.73 The Egyptian

population as at 35 million in 1972, and they aimed at reducing their population

growth from 2.5 percent a year to 1 percent a year by 1982.74

The government?s campaign completely failed, as the population growth rate

did not change much and the birth rate had actually increased since 1972.75 Strong

traditions and religious beliefs doomed the program from its start. The Egyptian

population is now over 58 million and shows no signs of decreasing.76 Egypt is not a

country of extreme economic prosperity and will be severely hindered by a growing


The population problems of Western Europe are the exact opposite to those of

Egypt. Most Western European countries are experiencing very slow growth and

some of them have shrinking populations.78 The leveling off of Western European

populations is not a result of birth control campaigns, but a combination of good

education, medical care, and the availability of contraceptives.79 Less Europeans have

been getting married since the 1950s, and those who do marry later have fewer

children than those who marry younger.80 Some working women choose to have few

or no children because it might interrupt their career.81 Many European countries

have programs that educate their young about birth control, sometimes even in

schools. Some countries who object to birth control, like The Republic of Ireland,

who reject birth control because of religious convictions, still have high birthrates.82

In others, like Germany, Austria and Switzerland have falling birth rates.83 The falling

birth rates in Europe could create problems in the future if they continue to fall. If the

birth rates in Europe continue o fall, by 2090 there will be half as many people living in


The main problem of having a low birth rate and a high standard of living is

that there become too many elderly people for the younger, working population to

support85 The number of young people in Europe used to greatly outnumber the

old.86 Young working people between the ages of 16 and 65 produced enough wealth

to support the retired population.87 Because the standard of living is quite high in

most European countries, people tend to live longer in Europe than in other countries

which causes the elderly population to be quite high.88 The fact that people are living

longer in Europe and having fewer children creates the problem of caring for the

elderly. It is very hard for a small population of young people to care for elderly

people with several medical needs. Because of the problems that low birth rates have

created, some European countries, like Germany, are actually encouraging their people

to have more children.89

It would be simple if governments around the world could just limit birth rates

to their ideal size, and then everyone would be healthier, better fed, more educated and

have more money. But this is not a reality, it has been tried before and it has failed. It

is possible to institute laws around the world to reduce birth rates; like mandatory

sterilization after having 2 children, or force people to have abortions if their

pregnancy was not planned. We could also create laws that put restrictions on how

long people are allowed to live, like mandatory euthanasia after 65. This may be hard

though it is possible, but is it fair? What are reasonable limitations to restrict

population growth? Some may argue that these measures are more reasonable than the

problems that ensue as a result of overpopulation; like wars, famine, and plagues.

It can be concluded that there is no simple solution to overpopulation.

Overpopulation is such a complex problem because it is caused by a myriad of factors.

In order to solve the problem of overpopulation, each one of the factors that cause it

must be dealt with. Among the most significant factors that cause overpopulation are

poverty, the unavailability of contraceptives, and the lack of education on how to use

contraceptives. These factors limit overpopulation almost entirely to the less

developed countries of the world. Large families are a necessity to people when they

get old in poor countries because the lack of pension plans and other financial security

plans for the elderly make it impossible for the elderly to survive without the support

of their children. Extreme poverty in a country makes it hard for people to afford

contraceptives like condoms and birth control pills, let alone education on how to use

them. Most of the main causes of overpopulation are somehow related to poverty, but

not all are. Religious beliefs and government indifference to overpopulation also keep

it a problem. There is no immediate end to overpopulation in sight, and most experts

of the issue say that it will have to get worse before it gets better. There is hope

though, because less developed countries are slowly becoming more developed. As

countries become more developed the need for large families decline, birth control

methods can be made more available to the public, and the government can afford to

educate its people on how to use contraceptives. Overpopulation will either be

brought under control through government policies that reduce birth rates or by

natural causes that result from overpopulation; like wars, famine and plagues.

Nathan Ludwig



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