I get arguments occasionally from people who believe Erin and me irresponsible for having more than two kids. As long-time readers know, I’ve never bought this line of reasoning and while time doesn’t permit a full-fledged essay on my viewpoint, I wanted to tackle the issue of overpopulation briefly since it seems to be the linchpin in many folks’ attitudes toward having multiple kids (or at least more than two).

While the world’s population is increasing, long-term projections are nowhere near what they once were. The United Nations (quite wrongly as it turned out) assumed that low-fertility countries would move upward toward the magic 2.1 kids per couple that is considered replacement rate while high-fertility countries would slowly move down to that level.

The reason the UN revised numbers in 1998 and again more recently is that fertility is falling substantially faster in countries with rates in the 2.1 to 5.0 range and low fertility countries aren’t moving upward at all.

Which countries are seeing big fertility rate declines? Here’s a few with their current fertility rate in parentheses: India (2.81), Pakistan (3.52), Indonesia (2.18), Brazil (1.88), and Mexico (2.21). China, the world’s most populous nation, is already at a rate of 1.73, but that in no way forgives its use of draconian family planning methods to get there.

Where will these nations end up? The UN thinks a rate of 1.85, which is lower than replacement rate and actually higher than many observers think is realistic.

And of course the fertility rate of western nations hasn’t come close to moving toward 2.1. Indeed Europe has seen almost 50 years of decline now, with a present day rate of around 1.3. Japan is 1.23. It is literally true for these countries that they can’t pay people to have enough kids.

The United States has a 2.1 fertility rate, but only because of immigration. Subtract those coming to the US and we’re below 2.1 as well.

This demographics don’t mean that there aren’t overpopulation problems in some parts of the world (though I’m inclined to argue that what is ascribed to overpopulation are typically issues of population density and resource allocation). Here in the US, like most of western Europe, the problem is not one of overpopulation but resource usage.

Undeniably more people tend to use more resources, but remember: Without immigration, we’re actually at a decline. The story 50 years from now won’t be “how will the earth support all these people?” It’ll be the same story that we’re starting to hear in the US, Japan, and western Europe: How can we get people to have more kids, if only to support all our elderly retirees. (They will make arguments about preserving their cultural heritage in the face of a dwindling population as well.)

It is generally accepted the annual increase in population growth peaked during the late 80s at around 88 million and has been dropping ever since. That is not to say that the world won’t have more people in it. Estimates are we’ll hit around 9.2 billion in 2050, but almost all of that will be in developing countries. The population for developed nations is expected to remain static at 1.2 billion.

According to MSNBC’s article on the UN Population Division’s 2006 estimate:

According to the report, 46 countries are expected to lose population by mid-century, including Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and most of the former Soviet republics.

[Division Director Hania] Zlotnik said most countries in Asia and Latin America have reached the “relatively beneficial stage” of having more working-age adults than children or elderly in their populations, “and they will remain in that stage for at least two more decades.”

But their populations will then start to age, heading in the same direction as Europe and North America, she said.

“Europe is the only region at this moment where the number of people aged 60 and over has already surpassed the number of children,” she said. “We expect that Asia and Latin America will have by 2050 an age distribution that is very similar to the one that Europe has today.”