The concept of zero population growth (ZPG), first used by Kingsley Davis (1908-97), is a condition in which the number of children born, combined with the number of people who immigrate, is equivalent to the number of people who die, combined with the number of people who emigrate. Under this condition, the population neither expands nor contracts. It is more simplistic, but less accurate, to calculate the ZPG using a country’s total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.1 or lower as a benchmark. The TFR, or number of children a woman has in her lifetime, however, is only one indicator of population growth. Demographers, environmentalists, and ecologists often advocate policies that promote zero population growth at a global level to avoid problematic conditions associated with uncontrolled global population increase, such as pollution, drought, and famine.
Many industrial and postindustrial nations experience a gradual increase of their populations due to both low birth rates and low death rates. At the same time, less developed countries experience high birth and death rates, and their population increases outpace their food and water production capabilities. For example, China, a country with an estimated 2006 population of more than 1.3 billion, has instituted policies that favor single-child families with the eventual goal of substantially reducing its total population.
During the industrial revolution, a period of great social and economic change in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, economist Thomas Malthus predicted that population would grow faster than its food production capabilities, resulting in widespread famine, war, and disease, as nature itself culled the population to a sustainable amount. Paul Ehrlich, a neo-Malthusian, suggested that zero population growth might avert the kind of environmental disaster that uncontrolled population control is likely to cause.
The best-known organization promoting policies that support population control leading to zero population growth is the Population Connection, founded in 1968 as Zero Population Growth. The goal of this organization is to decrease birth rates by educating the population of less developed countries while simultaneously empowering and providing family planning information to women of those countries.
However, zero population growth is not a universally accepted approach to population control. Greatly reducing the birth rate to achieve zero population growth would result in a disproportionate number of elderly citizens. Economists and other researchers argue that a state of zero population growth would result in a stagnant economy as well as an unfavorably low ratio of working to dependent members in the population. Additionally, demographers suggest that continued economic development in less developed countries and continued improvement in the status of women worldwide will result in slower world population growth, a trend already underway. For example, the rate of global population increase slowed from 2.04 percent in the late 1960s to 1.24 percent in 2000.
- Birdsall, Nancy, Allen C. Kelley, and Steven W. Sindig, eds. 2003. Population Matters: Demographic Change, Economic Growth, and Poverty in the Developing World. New ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Ehrlich, Paul R. and Anne Ehrlich. 1991. The Population Explosion. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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