The Geopolitics of World Population Change
July 10, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, the United Nations’ annual World Population Day, is a time to reflect on the past, present, and future state of the world’s population. Much attention will no doubt be given to the dangers associated with runaway population growth, from environmental degradation to unrelenting cycles of poverty. Amidst these worries, it is important to take note that the high tide of global population growth has peaked and begun to ebb. The real cause for concern is the sometimes gaping divergence in demographic trends between developed and developing nations, as well as between the United States and its traditional allies.
The stunning collapse in fertility rates across the world is the biggest – and perhaps least reported – demographic story of the past few decades. The developed world, of course, is no stranger to falling fertility. With the exception of the postwar Baby Boom, birthrates have been in almost uninterrupted decline for more than a century. More recently, however, fertility has also declined throughout the developing world – and at an extremely rapid pace. Iran, a country that evokes images of religious conservatism and traditional family values, has undergone one of the fastest fertility declines on record. According to UN estimates, the average number of children born to each Iranian woman has fallen from 6.6 to 2.1 over the past 25 years. The decline is global in scale, spanning Latin America, parts of the Islamic Belt, and East and South Asia. Since 1970, fertility in Mexico has fallen from 6.5 to an estimated 2.4, in China from 4.9 to 1.7, and in India from 5.3 to 3.1.