Let’s Celebrate a Lower Birthrate, Not Lament It

Readers criticize two Times pieces that raised concerns about slow population growth, instead viewing the trend as a positive for the planet.

To the Editor:

World Is Facing First Long Slide in Its Population” (front page, May 23) misses the big picture. World population is still growing by 80 million people annually, and it won’t stop for several more decades.

Most of that growth is happening in the poorest places on earth — many in sub-Saharan Africa. If the Italian towns of Capracotta and Agnone want to boost their populations of working-age residents, there’s a steady stream of people willing to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean to get there.

The article refers to a paradigm shift necessary to address the “strain of longer lives and low fertility” that “threatens to upend how societies are organized.” As the status quo changes, people adapt to the new normal.

If public health campaigns can get billions of people to wear masks and stay six feet apart for over a year, surely economists and politicians can figure out how to restructure economies away from a strict dependency on infinite population growth. Perhaps the cleaner air and water that will result from our slower growth will even be inspirational.

Marian Starkey
Washington
The writer is vice president for communications at Population Connection.

To the Editor:

Do we really want the world population to keep growing, so we reach 10.9 billion humans on earth at the end of this century, as the United Nations is predicting? Yes, there will be a rebalancing as we go from having on average 2.4 children per couple worldwide (a fertility rate that adds 1 billion humans to the planet every 12 years) to at least one child fewer per couple.

There will be a time when there are many more old people than babies. But the gains we get from this demographic transition to a smaller population are huge — although given only one sentence in your article. And lifesaving.

With a smaller population, we will not struggle for resources to provide food, water and housing for everyone; we will not contribute as much to climate change; we will live in harmony with nature and allow wildlife to thrive; most people will have jobs despite the rise in automation; there will be less traffic, less crowding, more open space. These are all crucial things to well-being.

The human population is now at 7.8 billion. My 84-year-old mother was born into a world of just 2 billion. It was not sad and on the decline, as this article paints a world with fewer people.

We need to slow birthrates, instead of insisting we must continue to have babies just to avoid the temporary discomfort of having to care for more elderly people.

Alexandra Paul
Pacific Palisades, Calif.
The writer is on the advisory board of World Population Balance.

To the Editor:

I’m a sophomore in college. My generation has grown up with doom and gloom on the global climate horizon. Constantly. And it’s not uncommon for such dire predictions of the future to cite population growth as a strong contributing factor.

So when I saw the headline about population decline, I clicked. I’m paying attention not because I’m worried about how this will affect the economy, but because I would love to have a child. Or children! When I’m older, of course, but it’s something I think about time to time. I love kids.

But when I talk to people my age about having children, we don’t talk about whether or not we like kids, or whether or not we would be able to support them. We talk about the moral implications of putting more people on this earth to consume more resources. And we talk about not wanting our kids to live in the terribly uncertain future, one in which they could be facing a world of climate change disasters. We ourselves are already facing it, in many places.

I felt this was downplayed in the article. Right now, my plan for the future is to adopt, or have no kids. But I hate the limiting of my choices.

So if the U.S. government decides it has a stake in my giving birth, it needs to start fixing the atmosphere. That, not gifts for newborns and pink seats on subways for pregnant women, as South Korea is doing, might convince me that I should.

Astrid Braun
Cleveland

To the Editor:

I am not going to join the doomsday reaction to the news that the world population growth rate is slowing down. Growing up in the 1950s in southern Italy in a family with seven children, I started panicking about the world population as soon as I learned multiplication. How could Earth possibly support so many people? Would we all starve?

I relaxed somewhat only when birth control became available in the 1970s, although to this very day I am still frustrated that contraceptives are not made universally available to whoever in the world wants them, especially in countries where they are most needed.

Fewer workers and more retirees? If people live longer and are healthier, they can retire later, and many will. With the age of automation and robotics looming upon us, fewer workers will be needed anyway. Abandoned homes? That could hopefully end homelessness. There will be less pressure on world resources and the environment, less poverty, less wars, less migration.

We will have to make some adjustments, but I have no doubt we will all be better off, no matter what the current economists say.

Chiara Nappi
Princeton, N.J.

To the Editor:

Re “We’re Running Low on Americans,” by Farhad Manjoo (column, May 24):

I am dismayed by recent articles that portray a global decline in the birthrate as something to be feared and prevented, rather than what it truly is: our only chance to slow the damage we are doing to our planet and the nonhuman life-forms we share it with.

In May 2019, the journal Nature reported that a million species are in danger of extinction. These losses — of fish and insects especially — pose a far worse threat to human life than a decline in our birthrate. Climate change and environmental degradation are major causes of forced migration and human misery. There are now more humans than at any time in history. Why do we need more?

Farhad Manjoo writes: “Chad Jones, an economist at Stanford, argues that a global population decline could reduce the fundamental innovativeness of humankind.” Seriously? Were previous generations less innovative than ours?

Emma Rushton
Nashville

To the Editor:

Farhad Manjoo’s view that many may find slow population growth “a blessing” is an understatement, to say the least. Common arguments that more babies are needed for economic prosperity or to support our graying population are based on a Ponzi-scheme-like principle that one never has to pay the piper for excess population.

Those new babies will also grow old and require yet more “support babies” in an endless pyramid of growth. Farhad Manjoo does make passing mention that a declining population will reduce carbon dioxide generation that is killing the planet, but adds, “less than you might think.”

Although there are hopeful signs of a lower population growth rate in some developed countries, world population is still growing at about 1 percent annually, adding 81 million people each year.

It’s been estimated that the earth is capable of sustaining a population in the range of 3 billion to 4 billion over the long term. So, if humanity has any hope of reducing global warming and the host of other destructive consequences of our fecundity, we need to encourage declining birthrates and figure out how to deal with the economic consequences.

Carl Mezoff
Stamford, Conn.

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