Introduction to Population Problems
Population has become one of the main subjects for economic studies today. It is main parameters that determine economic growth. The world's population has been on a steady increase over the past few years. Before the technological advancement being witnessed in the medical field, the mortality rate was very high, which affected the world's general growth. People did not live for a very long time as they do now. Life expectancy is 70 years for the modern generation, which is 30 years more than a few decades ago. With such advancement, one would expect that the world population would increase even further, which is not the real case. Consider the USA's birth rate; for instance, it is set at 1.88 per woman, which is less than what the United Nations recommends for a good balance.
However, this does not mean that the world is not facing a problem of overpopulation. As we shall see in our next topics on demographics, the world has been facing the population's problem for a long time. And it is important to understand this for a better understanding of the economy and policy. We live in a world where scarcity continues to influence decision-making processes. Human needs are unlimited, and yet they are expected to be fulfilled by a limited amount of resources available. Many economic theories are based on the fact that people are faced with different decision-making situations every day, which they must make to live a good life. Deontology and Kantianism, for instance, suggest that the main goal of humanity leads a happy life. And therefore, they will make decisions based on what makes them happier and avoid what makes them less happy. With scarcity, it becomes hard to make the right decision for what we want. If there were enough resources, people would not be struggling to get what they want. For one to live happily, they will need a lot of resources, which means they have to work hard to get enough money. They are also faced with the issue of unemployment, which comes from a lack of demand in the labor market.
The labor market
All these issues come up because of overpopulation. As more people migrate from rural to urban centers has made the competition even thorough. Conflicts over water, food, energy, open spaces, wilderness, transportation infrastructure, and many other resources are rising by the day. There are both negative and positive sides to the population increase today. It is the effects mentioned above that we should focus on and what population increase means to the general economy. For instance, the labor market grows bigger with the population. This is the only market where households are suppliers, whereas firms and industries provide the demand.
Two issues in the labor market emerge from the population problem. On one side, the three are more people in households to deliver enough labor for companies' growth. However, we have mention mortality and birth rates above. Since people are living longer, they can hold onto jobs for longer. The younger generation may, therefore, not find the employment they need to live a happy life. This conflict is also seen among employers when deciding whom they should employ – the young and energetic or the old and experienced. Technological advancement has made things even worse for the labor market, with machines taking up more of the work these people should have been doing. These conflicts will continue to be witnessed as long as there is a population increase.
The biggest threat the world is facing due to overpopulation is its effects on the environment. As stated earlier, economics touches a lot on the relationship between human activities and the environment. Sustainable development, which is one of the major global development goals today, is achieved through proper care for the environment. But then, increased human activities from overpopulation makes things even harder. Governments have come up with different measures as they try to put control of negative impacts and negative activities, but it all comes down to individuals taking responsibility for what they do.
Developed economies face the biggest threat of overpopulation. It may not come from the births in these countries, but from migrations. In the USA, for instance, there has been a steady increase in people coming from different countries. Large family size is a major course of poverty in these economies. The cost of raising and educating children is so high that it leaves many people without much to save. This is why China, for instance, came up with the one-child policy—in this case, having one child is seen as more affordable, especially with the rising costs of living. Parents are now able to give their children a better standard of living as they enjoy the same. In less developed countries, like in Africa, a large family remains a good thing. These countries are still in the initial stages of the demographic revolution. And even though more women have joined the labor market, it is still not enough to change society's view on certain things like birth control. Nevertheless, no country has yet graduated from the status of 'developing.' It is only that others are a few steps ahead.
If any country wishes to get the 'developed' status, they will have first to reduce their population growth. And this is what many economies have been doing over the last 60 years. Yet, reports show that the funding for family planning has reduced globally over the past 15 years, as the population is expected to grow steadily through 2050. Many governments are no longer emphasizing the need for birth control, perhaps because of the current generations that are aging out. Even as the world continues to grow along the civilization line, overpopulation continues to threaten many countries.
It remains and important step to check on how the population affects economic growth. Therefore, an important part of this article is to consider the impacts of population increase on the environment.
Is the population problem serious?
One of the main threats the population poses to the world deforestation and the loss of biodiversity. In order to enjoy positive growth in the economy without affecting the planet, it's vital to put these factors into consideration. It is not clear yet how much these effects will continue. Many species continue sinking into extinction. Ecologists and other scientists are majorly concerned with what has been happening over the years. The growing toxification of the environment makes things even worse. Today, we are fighting global warming, which is a result of bad decisions that many people have constantly been making. Thousands of chemicals have been released into the soil, the oceans, and the sky, which toxify everything. It is good that many companies create more jobs for the growing labor market, but this should not be at the environment's expense. It is good that many governments have come up with policies that put a brake on how natural resources are utilized.
The loss of forests is the biggest contributor to the changing climate. Forests are known for holding various amounts of carbon than goes back into the atmosphere when these trees are destroyed. And that is not all, trees are known for bringing rain too. And cutting down trees leads to a major loophole in the environment. Even the lowest rates of greenhouse gas emissions on the average developing economy can be lethal. And the high rate at which these emissions have been happening is a huge concern for everybody. It is projected that there will be 2.7 billion more people in the world by 2050, which means more threats to the environment. Climatic changes have been adding to global issues caused by overpopulation.
Cause of Population
Before the 20th century, not many people would be talking about population increase as the world was not as developed as it is today. And then came the success story of vaccination programs and other health care measures implemented after World War II. They have greatly contributed to the falling death rates, more so, infants and children. It has taken a very long time for an increase in births rates to follow. Stabilization of the number globally has been majorly fueled by a lack of priority in governments t put more focus on women's rights. Since the emergence of better technologies in the fields of medicine and public health, people are not expected to live longer. Contrary to this, the birth rate has significantly reduced over the past few years, even with all these developments, and yet this has not stopped population growth.
In the US, the biggest contributor to the population problem is immigration. Many people come to this country to escape violence and find sanctuary. There are also many who come here because they have seen better opportunities. Business interests and other factors that fuel better living standards have also been a major cause of population increase. This is happening, amidst many Americans not willing to have more children. You will find different publications almost every week, asking Americans to give birth as a way of encouraging population growth. A recent special edition on the Forbes Magazine titled 'Let Them In,' is a good example of these measures.
In contrast, a majority of the public wanted this growth to stop since the 1940s. There are even two Presidential Commissions that have called for the stopping of population increase. Even though these views have been ignored, there have taught us that conflict has been going on with the world's population. When there are many people in a society, its economy is most likely to grow faster as they provide labor force for the markets. Scarce populations often have to seek labor from other markets. But when the population exceeds the capacity of the ecosystem, it becomes another problem altogether. If we focus on the long-term, it's hard to understand where the population will be in the next 100 years. The fluctuations we see are common with economies. It is also crucial to look at what is happening to the environment due to overpopulation and come up with proper policies to guide sustainable growth.
Some of the main effects of overpopulation include the following:
- Loss of water. The UN-Water organization reports that 75% of the planet earth is water, which is 97.5% ocean and 2.5% freshwater. Today, most freshwater sources are either unchangeable or polluted, leaving only about 1% of the water in rivers, lakes, ponds, and the ground. It is estimated that more than 50% of the world population will be facing water-based shortages by 2025, as per the report from the Global Outlook for Water Resources to the Year 2025. This issue will bring in more problems even to the general economy.
- Species extinction. As people increase in number, they need enough land to build homes and cities. This leads to cutting down forests and killing some species of plants and animals. Such activities do not only threaten the environment but the economy as well.
- Depletion of natural resources. Again, the issue of scarcity comes up here, as the growing human population continues to exploit the finite natural resources. As a result, quality of life has been reduced.
- More restrictions. Laws that regulate human interaction will increase. And even though globalization has changed the world into a global village, overpopulation can lead to more restrictions.
- Climate changes. Global warming is one of the major impacts of population increase. Human activities that harm the environment have immensely increased, leading to more serious issues.
- High crime rates. If the population is high and there are not enough resources, they resort to criminal activities to earn a living. A high rate of unemployment comes from overpopulation.
Population trends differ widely among economies. Studying population problems is a part of understanding these economies. Under this topic is demographics, which is a subject that deals with population data using specific parameters like age, sex, employment, and location, among many others. The subject of population problems extends into migration, mortality, fertility, and prediction problems, among others, which will be covered as well.
Author: James Hamilton