Posts tagged with: Demography

crowd_2At the beginning of human history, God gave mankind a mandate to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Sometime later—around the 19th-century—people started wondering, “Is the earth close to being filled with humans?”

In 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted that if current birth rates persisted, many in Great Britain would starve to death. Instead, the birth rate was matched by increased agricultural yields, allowing more people to be fed with fewer land resources.

Despite Malthus’s failed predictions, others worried that population would eventually outgrow our resources. In 1838, the Belgian mathematician Pierre Verhulst calculated that his country could never support more than 9.4 million people. Verhulst was wrong; Belgian’s current population is more than 11 million.

In 1925, Raymond Pearl, head statistician for the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, calculated the maximum population limit of the U.S. to be 200 million. We reached that in 1968 and are currently at around 319 million. Pearl also predicted the world population limit would be 2 billion, a number that was surpassed in 1930.

Other similar calculations and predictions followed—and they turned out to be just as faulty. Why do smart people get population limit predictions so wrong? As Adam Kucharski explains,

The Rains Came - Beginning of the Flood Vittorio Bianchini (1797-1880/Italian)No, it’s not a regular flood. It’s a flood of immigrants – some legal, some not. Europe is getting swamped; what’s the damage going to be?

The American Interest reports that the Italian Coast Guard rescued almost 2,000 people over the weekend, bringing the number of immigrants to Italy this year alone to 90,000 (170,000 last year). The financial strain for Italy and other EU nations is becoming more and more apparent.

Many of the migrants keep making their own way to the more economically vibrant north. This in turn creates the kind of dysfunctional political dynamic on display between France and England in recent days, where the migrant crisis festering in Calais has seen as many as 5,000 migrants each day for the last six days try to force their way across the Eurotunnel by hiding in trucks and boarding trains. Eurotunnel authorities warned over the weekend that increased security at Calais, promised by both French and British ministers, would only displace the problem to other, less well-guarded ports.


Children-of-VietnamFor the past hundred years, a common worry about population was that we’d soon have more people than the Earth could sustain. Today, we have the opposite concern: In the near future, there may not be enough people to support an increasingly aging population.

To simply maintain its current population, a country needs the average number of children born to women in their country (over her lifetime) to be 2.1. Few industrialized countries come close to that replacement rate: Ireland (2.0), Australia (1.8), Canada (1.6), Japan (1.56), China (1.54), Spain (1.5), Germany (1.4), Poland (1.3), South Korea (1.2), etc.

To solve the problem of decreasing populations, says Eric Teetsel and Andrew T. Walker, our cultures must rediscover the importance of children.

overpopulation1In 1865, W. Stanley Jevons predicted that with coal reserves of 90 billion tons, England would run out within 100 years. Today, the country has between three trillion and 23 trillion ton, enough to last Britain for centuries.

In 1914, the Bureau of Mines fretted that with a total future production limit of 5.7 billion barrels, the U.S. only had about a ten-year supply of oil. Today, a hundred years later, we’re estimated to have 36 billion barrels left in the ground.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich predicted that because of an inability to produce enough food, hundreds of millions of people would starve in the 1970s. Instead, the population has doubled—from 3.5 to 7 billion—and the number of famine victims from 1970-2015 combined is less than in the 1960s.

Each time experts predicted a decline in natural resources would be detrimental to population growth. And each time history proved the experts wrong.

Yet despite this history, modern scientists are still more pessimistic about population growth than the general public, according to a pair of 2014 Pew Research Center surveys.

This is a bit second-hand (a source drawing from another source), but I still think the following tidbit on the modern history of clergy and scientific and technological development and discovery in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile is notable:

Knowledge formation, even when theoretical, takes time, some boredom, and the freedom that comes from having another occupation, therefore allowing one to escape the journalistic-style pressure of modern publish-and-perish [sic, probably intentionally] academia to produce cosmetic knowledge, much like the counterfeit watches one buys in Chinatown in New York City, the type that you know is counterfeit although it looks like the real thing. There were two main sources of technical knowledge and innovation  in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the hobbyist and the English rector….

An extraordinary proportion of work came out of the rector, the English parish priest with no worries, erudition, a large or at least comfortable house, domestic help, a reliable supply of tea and scones with clotted cream, and an abundance of free time. And, of course, optionality [i.e. freedom from intellectual strictures and the ability to change one’s mind based on new discoveries]. The enlightened amateur, that is. The Reverends Thomas Bayes (as in Bayesian probability) and Thomas [Robert] Malthus (Malthusian overpopulation) are the most famous. But there are many more surprises cataloged in Bill Bryson’s Home, in which the author found ten times more vicars and clergymen leaving recorded traces for posterity than scientists, physicists, economists, and even inventors. In addition to the previous two giants, I randomly list contributions by country clergymen: Rev. Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, contributing to the Industrial Revolution; Rev. Jack Russel bred the terrier; Rev. William Buckland was the first authority on dinosaurs; Rev. William Greenwell the foremost authority on spiders; Rev. George Garrett invented the submarine; Rev. Gilbert White was the most esteemed naturalist of his day; Rev. M. J. Berkeley was the top expert on fungi; Rev. John Michell helped discover Uranus; and many more. Note that … the list of visible contribution by hobbyists and doers is most certainly shorter than the real one, as some academic might have appropriated the innovation by his predecessor.


7figuresEach year the International Bulletin of Missionary Research lays out in summary form an annual update of significant religious statistics. Here are seven sets of figures based on their latest report:

1. Global population by religion: Christians – 2.38 billion; Muslims – 1.7 billion; Hindu – 1 billion; atheists – 136 million; Jews – 14 million.

2. Membership by 6 ecclesiastical megablocs: Catholics – 1.2 billion; Protestants – 441 million; Independents – 407 million; Orthodox – 280 million; Anglicans – 92 million; Unaffiliated Christians – 110 million.

3. Number of Christians by 6 continents, 21 UN regions: Africa (5 regions) – 520 million; Asia (4 regions) – 368 million; Europe (including Russia; 4 regions) – 561 million; Latin America (3 regions) – 562 million; Northern America (1 region) – 229 million; Oceania (4 regions) – 25 million.

4. Christian organizations: Denominations – 45,000; Congregations – 4.7 million; Service agencies – 30,000; Foreign-mission sending agencies – 5,000.

5. Christian finance (in US$, per year): Personal income of church members – $35 trillion; Giving to Christian causes – $626 billion; Churches’ income – $249 billion; Parachurch and institutional income – $377 billion.

6. Scripture distribution (all sources, per year): Bibles – 80 million; Scriptures including gospels, selections – 5 billion; Bible density (copies in place) – 1.8 billion.

7. World evangelization: Unevangelized population – 2.1 billion; Unevangelized as % of world: 29.2 percent.

broken-familyIn the 1970s, Paul Ehrlich tried to warn us: human beings were in trouble. We were reproducing so rapidly, Ehrlich opined, that millions of us would soon be starving.

Ehrlich got one thing right: we are in trouble. But he was completely wrong about overpopulation. Today, just the opposite is true. There aren’t enough of us human beings. And a lot of people are seriously disinterested in making more.

Nicholas Eberstadt calls this the “flight from family.” (more…)