Editor's Note, December 2023

Written by Marian Starkey | Published: December 11, 2023

Population projections and the assumptions demographers make in order to formulate them take center stage in this issue. Dr. Jane O’Sullivan, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia, generously participated in a lengthy interview with me about a paper she wrote critiquing the population projections the leading demography agencies calculate. She argues that the UN Population Division and other major demographic institutions far underestimate future family sizes in high-fertility countries and that the result is a consistent and predictable overshoot of each iteration of population projections. Her larger issue is with demographers’ stubbornness in sticking with their assumptions about rapid fertility decline in the face of repeated rounds of evidence that it’s not happening as quickly as they keep predicting that it will.

By coincidence, in October, the European Union published the results of a survey of demographers from around the world on the determinants and assumptions of population projections and on their levels of agreement with various policy statements related to fertility, mortality, migration, and population. We are sharing select data from the results of that survey in our Pop Facts infographic.

The survey of 237 demographers found that there are two basic schools of thought around population policy. According to the authors of the study:

  • Interventionists believe that population policies centered around human-rights-based family planning programs should be more prominent and that population growth has serious and direct consequences for climate change and environmental sustainability.
  • Abstentionists are confident that economic development and rising education levels will autonomously lead to lower fertility rates. In her aforementioned paper, Dr. O’Sullivan makes a compelling case regarding the limitations of development and education in reducing birth rates, in the absence of robust family planning programs.

There is unequivocally no excuse for coercive, draconian, authoritarian population policies. We agree with Dr. O’Sullivan, however, that strong, well-funded voluntary family planning programs that focus on individual needs and preferences are critical to achieving population stabilization.