, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 1231-1262

How the World Survived the Population Bomb: Lessons From 50 Years of Extraordinary Demographic History

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Abstract

The world population will reach 7 billion in late 2011, a demographic milestone that is causing renewed attention to the challenges caused by population growth. This article looks at the last 50 years of demographic change, one of the most extraordinary periods in demographic history. During this period, world population grew at rates that have never been seen before and will almost surely never be seen again. There were many concerns about the potential impact of rapid population growth in the 1960s, including mass starvation in countries such as India, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and increased poverty in low-income countries. The actual experience was very different. World food production increased faster than world population in every decade since the 1960s, resource prices fell during most of the period, and poverty declined significantly in much of the developing world. The article considers the economic and demographic explanations for the surprising successes of this important period in demographic history. It also looks at regions that have been less successful, especially Africa, and at the lessons for dealing with the important challenges that still remain.