World Population Implosion?

By Eberstadt, Nicholas | The Public Interest, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

World Population Implosion?


Eberstadt, Nicholas, The Public Interest


Over the past several years, some of the world's best demographers have begun a dramatic reassessment of the world's demographic future. They are now seriously proposing the possibility that the world's population rather than continuing to increase will in our lifetimes peak, and then commence an indefinite decline in the generations immediately ahead. This demographic scenario is implicitly reflected in, among other places, the United Nations Population Division's biennial compendium, World Population Prospects - the oldest, largest, and most intensive of various contemporary attempts to envision and outline likely future demographic trends. The forthcoming edition of that volume, The 1996 Revision, will include "low variant" projections that anticipate zero population growth for the world as a whole by the year 2040, and negative growth - that is to say, depopulation - thereafter.

Like two alternative projections ("medium" and "high") also offered, this "low variant," as previous editions of the study have explained, is "thought to provide reasonable and plausible future trends." And the eventual global depopulation envisioned in these projections, one should emphasize, is not calamitous - it does not result from Malthusian, environmental, or any other variety of disaster. Just the contrary: This contemplated stabilization and ultimate decline of world population is assumed to occur under what World Population Prospects terms "conditions of orderly progress." The UN Population Division's method, in fact, specifically posits that "catastrophes such as wars, famines or new epidemics" will not take place "during the projection period."

The UN's new "low variant" projections do not, of course, provide a sure vision of the future. But they do offer a glimpse of one particular, and by no means fantastic, version of the future - a version, as yet, whose outlines have scarcely been described and whose ramifications have scarcely been pondered. At a time when all manner of potential "population problems" are regularly accorded official attention by national and international authorities, the neglect that has to date greeted the possibility of a long-term reduction of human numbers is all the more striking.

In the following pages, we will survey the demographic contours of a world in which population has ceased to increase and examine some of the political, economic, and social implications that might flow from a global "population implosion" a few decades from now. (The new UN "low variant" projections will be our backdrop.) Unaccustomed as we may be to thinking about such a world, its advent might not be that far off. The UN projections in question imagine an indefinite demographic descent commencing just over 40 years from now - a time at which most of the earth's current inhabitants will likely still be alive.

The limits of population forecasting

This is not, to be sure, the first time that population specialists or others have raised the prospect of long-term population decline. Some 60 years ago, expectations of an imminent depopulation were widespread in the Western world. In the 1930s, in fact, "the fear of population decline," to use Michael S. Teitelbaum and Jay M. Winter's phrase, was palpable in a number of European countries - or at least in their leading political and intellectual circles. We now know that those predictions of depopulation were far off the mark. Indeed, at the very time when they were supposed to be entering into permanent negative growth due to sub-replacement fertility - the decades of the 1950s and 1960s - Western countries actually turned out to be in the midst of a demographic surge driven by a post-war baby boom.

Thus a few general words of warning about demographic projections and forecasts are in order. The uninitiated sometimes invest unwarranted confidence in the capabilities of population sciences to chart accurately the demographic trends of tomorrow.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

World Population Implosion?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.