Human population control

In all cultures there is an aversion to human population control. It is seen as an invasion of civil liberty that deprives citizens of a basic human right.

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says… Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Any external control of the desire to reproduce is a fundamental assault on personal liberty. No one likes it. 

Indeed, the desire to procreate is so strong and so fundamental to our being that King Canute had a better chance against the tide that society has of suppressing such a basic urge. It is no surprise that any outside control over something so fundamental is unwelcome.

Then there is the economic argument.

Why even consider human population control when more people are always good for the economy — people are workers and consumers, two essentials for successful commerce.

If it is good for the economy and a natural urge, why try to constrain it?

Many countries, including Australia, even pay their citizens to have more babies.

human population control | babies make the world go around

Do we need human population control?

In the late 1970’s a ballooning birth rate in China led authorities to answer yes to this question. 

Today China is home to 1.35 billion people.

There are 43 Chinese cities with over 2 million inhabitants. Power and infrastructure to support the population has required the extensive construction. For example, there are more than 100,000 km of expressways with 12,000 km being completed in 2012 and at least one a new power station is commissioned every week.

In 1979 China introduced a Family Planning Policy that restricted the number of children citizens could have, famously restricting about a third of the population to just one child.

This policy reduced average births per female from 2.63 in 1980 to 1.61 in 2009 and slowed down population growth in China by around 200 million births in 30 years.

200 million is the current population size of Brazil where food consumption is 630 billion calories a day.

There were many problems with the policy China applied from the moral and psychological challenges of state level control to more acute issues of abortion and infanticide. The latter became prevalent with baby girls sufficient to skew the sex ratio significantly towards males.

How to control population

It is hard to impose control on population but it is possible to calm down growth.

Here are three ways to do it…

  • Affluence | as individual and societal wealth grows so food, health services and education improve and that brings lower infant mortality and long life expectancy that combine to reduce the desire for many children.
  • Empowering women | as women gain more control over procreation [especially through birth control] family sizes become smaller.
  • Societal rules | jurisdictions can impose rules [such as the one child policy in China] that formally suppress the birth rate.

None of these are easy solutions being either hard to implement or have consequences of their own. 

Few countries have followed the Chinese example of state control.

The hard won status of near equality women now have in western society still eludes the majority of women in the world. Innate gender biology reinforced by culture mean that many women still struggle to plan their families as they would like. 

This leaves affluence as the default option, one that also happens to fit the current world economic view.  

Hans Rosling explains how affluence and demography are linked in his excellent TED lecture, well worth the 10 minutes.

But even affluence is not without problems.

Many of the pages on Ask Alloporus are environmental issues that are caused or made worse by our requirement for wealth and the economic growth that provides it.

More pages on the vexed issue of population from Ask Alloporus... world population growth | over population | world population statistics


Human population control has huge stigma fuelled by moral, cultural and religious fervor.  It feels like the outside world has crept into our most personal of decisions and taken away a fundamental right.

But to the pargmatologist, global population growth of 9,000 per hour has far greater consequences for personal freedom.

Most major environmental issues come about not because there are so many people, but because they all arrived in a hurry. It is the speed of increase in demand for resources that causes the problems. We could cope with growing demand there was time to create [or invent] sustainable supply.

Human population control would at least buy some time.

human population control | city of Florence, Italy

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