July 25, 2023
A lot of narratives we hear, today, seem to be on repeat. One of those that’s been repeated for years, centuries actually, is concern about growing population and its impact on humanity’s sustainability. This narrative naturally allows for a variety of ideologies to flow and take root in people’s consciousness – and much of what you hear seems to make sense. But, rather than just absorbing society’s messaging, we ask you to consider that you may not be hearing all of the story. What is the history of this idea? Are there valid reasons for population concern? And if so, what does that concern actually look like?
Today, Alexis Goodman shares with us the first of a two-part series that provides a deep dive into what we refer to as “population alarmism.” Sit back and get ready for an interesting ride through the last 50+ years.
Faithfully for families,
Wendy Wixom, President
United Families International
Fertility Highs and Lows: Part 1
The Dark History of Population Alarmism
The world’s population hit eight billion in November 2022. There are many that see this as a threat to the planet and to humanity. Is population growth a good thing? Or, does it signal the approaching end of life as we know it? Population alarmism has a long and checkered history – a history of being wrong.
What most people don’t realize is, globally, fertility rates have actually plunged to levels that many believe to be quite problematic. As of 2020, well over 50 percent of the world had sub-replacement fertility levels. As of 2022, 16 percent of the countries of the world have a fertility rate of 1.4 – and many countries, much lower.
Demographers estimate that when a country’s fertility rate reaches 1.4 (instead of the replacement level of 2.1), that country will lose one-third of its population every generation (most demographers consider a “generation” to be, on average, every 25 years). Imagine if, in 25 years, your state were to lose one-third of its population. What would happen to your state’s economy, to its businesses, to home values, to its schools? And, that only addresses a small part of the impact.
Global health researcher and economist, Christopher Murray, summarizes that impact: “That’s a pretty big thing; most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline. I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognize how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganize societies.”
The size of the world’s population, now, is primarily driven by increased life span – thanks, in large part, to advances in medicine. As population analyst Nicholas Eberstadt colorfully states it: “Population did not boom because people suddenly started breeding like rabbits, but rather because they finally stopped dying like flies.”
Throughout most of history, couples, on average, had five children or more. Now, worldwide data tells us the fertility rate is at less than 2.5 children per couple. The only reason the global fertility rate is above the replacement level of 2.1 births (average number of births per woman over her lifespan) is because of African countries. Niger has the highest fertility rate at nearly seven children per woman. In contrast, the lowest fertility rates are seen in South Korea at 0.9 children per woman, where women are eager to tell everyone they are no longer “baby-making machines.”
The story that is finally getting some attention
News headlines are abuzz about China’s recent demographic numbers which show a sharp decline in their population. In the year 2022, the Chinese population saw more people die than be born. It is estimated by the end of the century, China’s current population of over a billion people will be halved. In an attempt to boost their birth rate, China has rolled back its one and two-child policies and now encourages couples to have three children.
Decades of China’s extremist policy of allowing only one child per family, combined with a cultural preference for sons led to an extreme sex ratio imbalance in China. In 2004, that imbalance was 121 boys for every 100 girls, leading, today, to over 30 million bachelors who will never find wives. These bachelors are referred to as guang guan, meaning, “broken branches.” A 2013 study found these bachelors suffered from higher rates of depression and in 2008, another study revealed a 5-6% increase in violence and crime was seen for every one percent increase to the sex ratio imbalance in China.
Although China’s demographic situation is being talked about, not much coverage is being given to the other countries who are seeing their population numbers in decline, their population become predominantly elderly, and as one study put it, “When substantial shares of the population do not leave any descendants over the course of a few generations, this is likely to have social, genetic, and economic ramifications. It can influence for instance economic equality, fiscal sustainability, healthcare needs and demographic development.”
One hundred and eight countries have below replacement fertility, including the U.S. and all of Europe, and 80 percent of the world lives in a country with a fertility rate less than three children per woman.
Where did this trend of lower fertility rates come from? Where does the UN stand on population growth? What did population policies look like fifty years ago and what do they look like now? What drives the desire for less children?
History of Population Alarmism and Control
Malthus is considered the author of population alarmism and the basis of his argument was that food supplies will never be enough for the rising population numbers and mankind would be best helped by population restrictions through celibacy and self-restraint.
During the 20th century, Neo-Malthusian theory was born. Rather than depend on celibacy for population control, the adherents for this latter theory found birth control and more coercive policies to be most conducive for reaching their goals.
One major player in the population control movement was Margaret Sanger who was frustrated by the unplanned and unwanted children she was seeing as a nurse in the early 1900’s.
Becoming an avid supporter of the Eugenics Movement was inevitable for a mindset like hers and it wasn’t long after she coined the term “birth control” and went on a rampage throughout the world campaigning for contraceptives. Her non-profit organization was developed soon after, Planned Parenthood.
One of her most incriminating quotes though, in relation to overpopulation, was, “As population increases in any given territory, it encroaches upon all natural sources…. Parenthood should be considered a privilege, not a right…. Those who do not have the individual initiative and intelligence to plan and control the size of their families should be assisted, guided, and directed in every way to eliminate the undesirable offspring, who usually contribute nothing to our civilization but use up the energy and resources of the world.”
Population alarmism gains traction
Another important player, associate, and successor of Sanger, was Alan Guttmacher. He became president for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1952, and is known for, “refocusing Planned Parenthood’s mission to tackle social problems including global overpopulation and providing health care to low-income families in the United States.” How did he strive to address overpopulation and fulfill his duties on the eugenics front? By pushing for widespread birth control and abortion, especially for lower income areas.
During the 1960’s, over-population concerns were gaining traction via Paul Ehrlich’s book “Population Bomb.” Ehrlich stated: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now…. But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control.” This book went on to inspire fear in countries around the world and contributed to the coercive population policies evident soon after.
This book seemed to have really impacted the American Government as it began to give foreign aid to developing countries for countering population growth. This began in 1959. Between 1967 and 1977, just ten years, the U.S. gave over $80 million in foreign aid for population programs, through USAID. In the 1970s, the International Planned Parenthood saw half their budget being supplemented by the USAID program.
Henry Kissinger’s National Security Strategy is relatively unknown yet its effects are still being seen today. The U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor wrote a memorandum in 1972 urging for various U.S. departments to become involved in a study that would delineate the, “Implications of World Wide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests.”
The report that resulted from that memorandum was aggressive and as one writer describes, “Because of the bold nature of the suggested initiatives, the authors recommended that the report remain classified for 5 years in order to provide time to educate the American public as to the necessity of these initiatives. The NSSM 200 report actually remained classified for 14 years.”
This report suggested things like insistent family planning programs worldwide, abortion access, U.S. leadership in population growth curbing, one-child family policy in the U.S., influencing least developed countries that will not be able to keep up with modernization and will bring about large population growth, and increases to the AID budget.
In 1969, the United Nations (UN) created the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “which promoted the view that population growth was at the root of environment problems and poverty, blaming the world’s poorest people in particular.”
In 1974, the UN came together to address these rising population concerns. In their “World Population Plan of Action,” they began to sow the seeds for what would become the focus of future UN population programs. Throughout the document the theory is made manifest: if we want to promote development and improve quality of life, then we must also invest in some sort of population control, whether it be through coercive measures or incentives. Garrett Hardin openly stated at a Population Council gathering, “It would be much easier if we have a persuasive campaign first to prepare the way for coercion later.”
China and India’s experience with coercive measures
Eventually, countries began enforcing coercive measures, the top two being China and India. An incredible article titled, “Neo-Malthusianism and Coercive Population Control in China and India” by Chelsea Follett goes into great detail explaining what happens when a country is guided by population alarmism.
In China’s crusade for lower fertility rates, they fitted over 324 million women with IUDs that they could not remove and were most of the time implanted against their will. UN numbers show at least 18.3% of Chinese women were sterilized against their will. During their one-child policy, the China population saw over 300 million abortions take place, with once again an indeterminate amount being forced. It is estimated that throughout the entire policy era, they prevented 400 million births.
As for India, during their state of Emergency in 1975, over 11 million people were sterilized, most of which were men, and one million women were fitted with IUDs. An estimated 7 million sterilizations were undesired. One of the policies for the Emergency campaign was “Family Planning – for a prosperous future,” propaganda very much in line with what the UN was outlining. A new push for coercive population control is currently underway in India, right now.
Speaking of the UN, the UNFPA whole-heartedly supported both China and India in their efforts. They made their intentions known by opening up an office in Beijing and giving out $50 million over four years to China’s population policies. It has been said that for China, “UNFPA grants went to training and equipping the people who would go on to carry out coerced procedures.” China also received the UNFPA Population Award in 1983. Indira Gandhi, the force behind India’s emergency and population control, also received the UNFPA Population Award in 1983. Through the 1960’s the UNFPA, with the help of the Ford Foundation and World Bank, provided India with most of the $1.5 billion they received in aid.
This all goes in direct contrast to the UN’s World Population Plan of Action which states, “Independently of the realization of economic and social objectives, respect for human life is basic to all human societies;” and, “The family is the basic unit of society and should be protected by appropriate legislation and policy;”.
Population control in disguise
If you go to the UNFPA’s website, you will see their mission statement. It reads as follows: “UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Our mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”
At first glance, this seems to be a very different UNFPA from the one we were just reading about. Their focus seems to be primarily on helping women achieve healthy reproductive lives, making childbirth safer and ensuring children grow up happy and healthy.
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find much of anything about controlling populations on their current “About us” page. But their agenda is not as hidden as one might think, you need only know what you are looking at. Their complete switch to female rights is not so far off from old population control tactics. It’s all about changing the narrative. Just as “family planning” became a prettier coupling of words than “birth control” and abortion, so has “women’s rights” become prettier than “population control.”
Women’s rights as a population control tactic
Betsy Hartman, in an article titled “Population Control I: Birth of an Ideology”, wrote, “The early neo-Malthusians supported birth control as a means of improving the condition of the poor by limiting population growth; feminists and socialists believed it was a fundamental women’s right; eugenicists embraced it as a way of influencing genetic quality. These strange bedfellows combined to give the birth control movement its unique character; it carried within it the seeds of birth control as a liberating force, as well as a means of coercive population control.”
A woman’s “right” to abortion and birth control is the current lens for population control. This was written about Garret Hardin, the manipulator at the Population Council, “In an approach that would be copied by many others, he put his population and eugenics concerns in the background and based his argument mainly on the welfare and rights of women.”
While the UNFPA is saying things like: “Access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right. Family planning is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and it is a key factor in reducing poverty”, they are utilizing 57.7% of their funding for their “Utilization of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services” program (otherwise known as abortion and child-sexualizing Comprehensive Sexuality Education programs). Only 7.4% is going toward, women’s health care, helping mothers safely delivering a healthy child, or effective economic development. UNFPA has realized their full intentions and the best way to target them. You can look at their annual report here, and notice that much of their efforts are currently concentrated on Africa.
In addition to being complicit in coercive measures like sterilizations and forced IUDs and abortions, the UNFPA is changing the way the world views birth control measures. They’ve convinced people to now view them as necessary, as lifesaving, as empowering, as a right. They don’t have to force anyone to shrink their family sizes, we do it voluntarily and call it a “healthy lifestyle.” This all stems from the Cairo consensus in 1994, a UN conference that realized population control could only be achieved through subtly yet overwhelmingly influencing the family decisions of women.
This is why the UNFPA can’t scare and it can’t celebrate. They have a precarious balance to uphold. Should they condemn the 8 billionth population member, they will stir up old remembrances of harsh and coercive population policies. But should they celebrate the 8 billionth child for the milestone that it is, they could potentially be putting a damper on their attempts to ingrain contraceptives and abortions into the culture of the world.
Please join us in the coming week, for Part 2 of our series on Population Dynamics, where we will look at some of the most common Population Myths and then take a look at what the future might hold.
Alexis Goodman was raised on a ranch in Dadeville, Missouri. She loves spending time with her husband, reading, hiking mountains, and learning new hobbies. She is currently a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where she is working to get a degree in Political Science with an emphasis on American Government.