Courtesy Reuters

Decoding Demography

By Joseph Chamie, Jack A. Goldstone

To the Editor:

Jack Goldstone ("The New Population Bomb," January/February 2010) offers interesting insights regarding demographic trends, but several points should be clarified.

First, although global population growth is clearly slowing, it will not "nearly halt by 2050." According to the medium variant of the United Nations' data, the current level of annual growth, 79 million, is projected to decline to 31 million by 2050. Therefore, it is incorrect to state that by 2050, "the world's population will have stabilized."

Second, Goldstone writes that global population in 2050 is projected to be 9.15 billion, but that figure rests on the assumption that developing countries' fertility rates will continue to decline. For that to happen, family planning practices will have to expand greatly, especially among the poorest nations. If not, and fertility rates remain at their current levels, global population in 2050 will be around 11 billion and growing by some 131 million annually.

Third, although Goldstone stresses four important population trends, he ignores or pays insufficient attention to other vital trends with enormous global consequences. He does not note, for example, the changing status of women or the transformation of family structure.

Fourth, Goldstone's grouping of "the Muslim world" is problematic, as it ignores the enormous diversity that exists across countries with predominately Muslim populations. For example, whereas the fertility rate in Pakistan is about four children per woman, in Iran it is near the replacement level.

Still, Goldstone's overall conclusion is correct. Developments in world demography are making the strategic and economic policies of the twentieth century obsolete, and it is time to find new ones. The challenge, of course, will be to find the correct new ones.

JOSEPH CHAMIE
Research Director, Center for Migration Studies, and former Director, United Nations Population Division

Goldstone replies:

Joseph Chamie concurs that demography is changing the world, but he is concerned that I am
too sanguine that world population will stabilize at around 9.15 billion by 2050. In writing that global population growth will "nearly halt by 2050," I was citing the medium projection of the United Nations' 2008 long-term population forecast. Although this does show the world's population still growing slowly in 2050 and for a few years thereafter, it also shows that this slight growth will soon reverse: after 2060, the UN projects, global population will decline and stabilize just below nine billion.

Chamie is correct that the UN's projections assume a continued decline in fertility in developing nations, which in turn depends on making family planning more widely available in poor countries. In March 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed a foreign assistance budget that would allot $715.7 million to support international family planning and reproductive health. If adopted by Congress, this would be a 54 percent increase in funding since the last fiscal year of the Bush administration. Such policies would go far toward preventing the scenario Chamie envisions, of global population being 11 billion by 2050.

Chamie is also correct in writing that the Muslim world is highly diverse in terms of culture,
religious practice, and fertility. Still, fertility remains high in many Muslim countries that are also major U.S. security concerns: for example, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. These countries' populations will double in the next three decades, meaning that there will be many more young people seeking employment and purpose in their lives. Meanwhile, other Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Turkey, are slower growing but have large populations and will be vital contributors to the global economy. The imperative remains acute, then, to improve relations between the West and the Muslim world, in all its diversity.

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