BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : AUGUST 30, 1999 ISSUE
COVER STORY -- 21 IDEAS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Q&A: Birth Rates Are Down, but the Population Keeps Growing


John P. Bongaarts is vice-president for policy research at the Population Council, a nonprofit research organization supported by foundations and governments. He is an expert on the impact of demographic change in the 21st century. He spoke about the continued growth in world population with Peter Coy, an associate economics editor at Business Week.

Q: Is world population growth slowing down?
A:
Start with the U.N. projections. Their record has been very good. In 1955 they projected the 2000 population, and it was off by only 3% or 4%. Their medium projection is that world population will reach 8.9 billion in 2050. It will go up just a bit after that. This assumes, on average, two surviving children per woman.

Q: Why would population keep rising if women are having only enough children to replace themselves and their partners?
A:
Two reasons. The first is mortality declines. People will stay alive longer. Also, there's "population momentum." There are so many young people entering their fertile years that even if they have only two children per couple, there will be an echo baby boom. That factor alone will cause 50% further growth in population in developing countries.

Q: What are the birth rates in developing countries?
A:
On average they're down to three births per woman. That's likely to go down to two in the next 25 years. The U.N. projects no change in fertility rates in the developed world as a whole from now to 2050. A decline in Europe and Japan would be offset by an increase in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Q: Why are women in developing countries having fewer children --not counting China, where it's because of government policy?
A:
It's because of the issue of quality vs. quantity, which has played itself out in the developed world in the last 25 years. In Africa, people used to have lots of children. Parents there are now having fewer children in part because they want to devote more resources to each child, and that should have a productivity boost for those economies.

In the developing world, a reduction in the birth rate has a powerful economic effect. It produces a better-equipped labor force and more savings.



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