Abrams, Michael. "Population Bomb Fizzles," Discover, January 2003, p. 40.
The world's population bomb may not go off after all. Demographers assumed that development
and education were the principal ways to reduce fertility rates in countries with soaring
population growth. However, recent surveys, satellite data, and number crunching presented and
analyzed at a United Nations meeting in March show that fertility rates are declining in some
less-developed parts of the world. Mexico, Indonesia, and the Philippines have slowed their long-
standing high rates of the 1950s to a replacement legel of 2.1 children per couple. Thailand has
dropped from 6.6 to 1.9; Iran's rate is down to an even 2. India's fertility rate of 6 in the 1950s
has now dropped to 3.3.
The widespread availability of contraceptives may be the biggest factor behind the decline. In the
past third of a century, their prevalent worldwide has nearly doubled. Even in Brazil, with
opposition from the Catholic Church, no government support, and no official family-planning
programs, the fertility rate has dropped from 6.2 to 2.3. Roughly 40 percent of Brazilian women
of reproductive age have been sterilized, says Joseph Chamie, who is director of the United
Nations Population Division. "They've said, ‘Enough's enough, we're closing the kitchen. No
more coming out of the oven.'" Couples who once had more children than they wanted are now
able to take control of the size of their families. Other factors include declining mortality rates
and increasing urbanization. "Children aren't necessarily milking the cows, feeding the chickens,
slopping the pigs, and taking care of the goats," says Chamie. "So the return from children is
relatively limited in urban environments."
If these trends continue, the population of the world may reach 9 billion by 2050 and level off at
abound 10 billion by the end of the century - 1 or 2 billion fewer than earlier predictions. "It
won't double again, and no one sees it going to 12," says Chamie. "It's like a slow-moving oil
tanker: It's slowing down, but it will take awhile to stop."