In the News, June 2023

Written by Olivia Nater, Communications Manager | Published: June 12, 2023

India officially world’s largest population

According to the latest UN projections, India has officially overtaken China (which has peaked and begun shrinking) as the world’s largest population. At the end of June, India is expected to have 1.4286 billion people, compared to China’s 1.4257 billion. Of course, demographic estimates are never 100 percent accurate—data released in January by China’s National Bureau of Statistics suggest China may have already slipped behind India at the beginning of this year.

India’s total fertility rate (the average number of live births per woman) dropped below the 2.1 replacement level in 2020, but due to the large number of women of childbearing age, the population is projected to continue growing to just short of 1.7 billion in the early 2060s.

Financial incentives fail to boost birth rates

South Korea’s fertility rate has been the world’s lowest for around a decade, but it’s dropped even further, shrinking from 0.81 in 2021 to only 0.78 births per woman in 2022. In response, President Yoon Suk Yeol is rolling out more measures to encourage South Koreans to have children. Since 2022, mothers have been receiving a one-off payment of 2 million won ($1,510) upon the birth of a child. There is also a monthly allowance for parents of infants up to the age of one, which increased this year and will go up further in 2024, from 700,000 won ($528) to 1 million won ($755). Additional payments exist for children up until elementary school age, as well as for low-income households, single parents, and, in some areas, for mothers who have given birth more than three times. Over the past 16 years, South Korea has spent over $200 billion on policies aimed at boosting births, but the birth rate has only continued to decline.

Fewer than 400,000 babies were born in Italy in 2022, a new historic low, despite a rollout of monthly payments up to €175 ($194) for every child up until age 21. Italy has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, at 1.3 children per woman, and the population has been slowly shrinking since 2014.

Births in Japan have also dropped to a new low, and the country’s population shrank by over half a million people between 2021 and 2022. The Japanese government has long tried, and failed, to reverse this trend with financial incentives. In April, the childbirth allowance increased from 420,000 to 500,000 yen ($3,700), and the government launched a new Children and Families Agency, focused on supporting parents and their children’s health and education.

Many governments of other low-fertility countries are trying to encourage people to have more babies, with similarly poor success. While modest increases could likely be achieved if policies successfully tackled high cost of living, low wages, lack of job security, and patriarchal attitudes, it’s the norm for countries to converge below the 2.1 replacement rate once women gain power over their bodies and lives.

UN survey: many believe planet is overpopulated

A survey of almost 8,000 adults across eight countries (Brazil, Egypt, France, Hungary, India, Japan, Nigeria, and the United States), commissioned by UNFPA, found that in every country surveyed, the most common view among respondents being asked their attitudes about population size was that the global population is too large.

The survey was part of the research that went into UNFPA’s State of World Population 2023 report, published in April, which focuses on attitudes toward population size and how extreme views in either direction can be harmful. Unfortunately, the report claims all overpopulation narratives are problematic, citing common misconceptions such as that they place the blame on poor and marginalized communities.

Historic deal for oceans reached

Following almost two decades of negotiations, nations agreed in March on a deal to protect the world’s oceans. Commonly referred to as the “High Seas Treaty,” the agreement aims to protect biodiversity by establishing large-scale protected areas (in line with last year’s UN biodiversity agreement which calls for protecting 30 percent of marine areas by 2030), and regulating damaging activities such as overfishing and deep-sea mining. The high seas, two-thirds of the world’s oceans, don’t fall under national jurisdiction, so exploitation of their resources has so far been a ‘free-for-all,’ with dire consequences for marine life. Countries still need to formally adopt the treaty, and it will likely take several years for policies in support of its goals to be implemented.

New report disproves own claim that population is irrelevant

A report published in March by Earth4All, a group of prominent think-tanks, including The Club of Rome (which was behind 1972’s influential Limits to Growth report), argues that it is unequal resource distribution, rather than overpopulation, that is driving our environmental crises. The authors’ models show that we could live within our planet’s means if everyone on Earth (currently 8 billion and counting) adopted a minimum standard of living with an annual income per person of $15,000–$19,500, provided an equal distribution of resources.

This convergence of living standards to just above the poverty line is not only impossible to implement, it also proves that our numbers do matter by demonstrating how drastically we would need to slash consumption in the absence of population action.

The report also suggests that under “business as usual,” our global population could peak at just 8.8 billion people in 2050, before declining to 7.3 billion by 2100. These projections are a lot lower than the UN’s, which calculate a peak of 10.4 billion in the 2080s, and no significant decline during the remainder of the century. The Earth4All models differ by using the historical global trend in GDP per capita as a predictor of future fertility rates. However, in the regions with the highest fertility rates, GDP per capita has largely been stagnating. The report ignores that lowering fertility rates by improving access to family planning and education is often a necessary precursor to accelerated economic development.

Taliban bans contraception

In February, Afghanistan’s Taliban government forbade the sale of contraceptives, enforcing the ban through threats to pharmacies and midwives. In the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, family planning is a Western ploy to control the Muslim population. Women and girls are already excluded from higher education and most workplaces, as well as certain public spaces. The contraception ban represents another massive blow to Afghan women’s rights, as well as a huge threat to their health and lives.

Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, at 620 deaths per 100,000 live births. With no means to prevent unwanted pregnancy or even space births, this drastic act will cause even more maternal complications and preventable deaths.