, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 1231–1262 | Cite as

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

  • David LamEmail author


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.


Population growth Demographic transition Poverty Resources Food 



This is a revised version of the presidential address presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America on April 1, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The article draws on previous work, including Lam (2005), Lam and Duryea (1999), and Lam and Marteleto (2008a). Excellent research assistance was provided by Kendra Goostrey and Laura Zimmermann. Valuable comments were provided by many of my colleagues at the University of Michigan and by two anonymous reviewers. Financial support for the research that is presented here was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Supplementary material

13524_2011_70_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (82 kb)
Esm 1 David Lam, “How the World Survived the Population Bomb,” online appendix figures (PDF 82 kb)


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and Population Studies CenterUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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