Overpopulation and Poverty

By 2050, it is expected that the world’s population will exceed 10 billion people for the first time. Overpopulation and poverty are directly linked because the world’s 48 poorest countries in the world will double in population, from 850 million to over 1.7 billion people, by that time. This is because when there is a higher death rate for children in a region, there is also an overall higher birth rate.

Why does this happen? According to information provided by The Borgen Project, it is because when people know that their children are going to be able to survive, they have fewer children. This means it is essential for the developed world to work on addressing the issue of global poverty. By keeping children alive, the issue of overpopulation and how it relates to poverty can be addressed.

With Better Health Comes Lower Population Rates

There is direct evidence to prove that overpopulation and poverty are linked. This is especially true when it comes to extreme poverty, which is defined as a household living on the equivalent of $1.25 or less every day.

In the nation of Guatemala, the levels of extreme poverty have dropped by almost 40% since 1992. In that same period of time, the average household size has also dropped, from an average size of 9 to an average size of just over 5.

In Cambodia, the average family size of a household was almost 8. By the end of 2015, with extreme poverty having been decreased by more than 40%, the average number of children per family is now less than 3.

And the World Bank reports that Namibia has seen extreme poverty rates fall by just 20%, yet they have also seen their average family size cut in half as well.

The comparison to households in the United States is clear. The average US household in 2015, from data provided by Statista, shows a size of just 2.54 people. US households have also seen a decrease in family size over the past decades as wealth within the country has increased. The population data provides further evidence of this: US population levels are increasing at a 0.7% rate, while regions like sub-Saharan Africa are increasing at a 2.7% rate.

Does Overpopulation Cause Poverty? Or Does Poverty Cause Overpopulation?

About two centuries ago, an English Cleric named Thomas Malthus reasoned that humanity grows at a geometrical rate, while our ability to produce resources increases at a mathematical rate. This would mean that overpopulation would cause poverty because we would be unable to match our resource production with our own rate of fertility.

Yet there is clearly more food produced today than ever before. According to Oxfam Canada, the world is producing 17% more food per person today than it did just 30% years ago. Yet despite this level of food production, more than 1 billion people go hungry every day. Even in the United States, arguably the wealthiest nation in the world, 20% of children do not get enough food to eat.

The problem is clearly not production. The issue is that there are far too many people living in poverty so they are unable to access the resources they need. Many people in the world today to not have the land to grow food or the income they need in order to purchase enough food. This is seen in the regions of developed countries that have pockets of poverty. Hunger is very prevalent in those poverty pockets, even though households around those pockets have resource availability in excess amounts.

This principle of poverty is also seen throughout the rest of the world. 98% of the 1 billion people who go to sleep hungry every night live in the developing countries of the world. The APAC region is home to over half of the world’s population, but nearly 70% of those who are hungry.

65% of the world’s hungry actually live in just 7 countries: India, China, DRC, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia. This means that hunger is not a random condition and it isn’t caused by our own fertility. The world is producing enough food. It is our social structures that are causing poverty instead.

Unhealthy Countries Create Crowded Countries – Not Poverty

The idea that some countries have too many people is a stigma that is helping to continue the cycle of poverty. Some nations like Japan are clearly very crowded, yet they do not have the same hunger challenges as a sparsely population nation like Bolivia, where population densities are low and poverty is very severe.

This overpopulation and poverty is not the concern. Unhealthy nations should be the concern. When families are living in conditions that can only be described as desperate, there are several socioeconomic reasons why they may choose to have more children.

  • Larger families are also usually perceived as being a family that is richer. Not rich in terms of money, but in terms of status and security. Large families are able to bear the burdens of an entire community at times.
  • Some women are judged in their society based on the total number of children, especially sons, that she can bear. Not having the right number of children or being able to bear a son can result in desertion, divorce, or even worse.
  • Children are also seen as being able to contribute to the overall income of a household. By the time children reach their teenage years in low-income communities, they earn more than they consume. If this can be multiplied several times over, then families see this as a potential opportunity to get out of poverty.
  • Since developing countries do not have retirement or pension programs, parents one day will need their children to take care of them. More children is typically seen as a better standard of living when parents become too sick or too old to continue working.

It’s a “moonshot” for families in poverty. By having a large number of children, the odds of having one child be able to change their stars and eventually provide for the entire family increases. It’s like trying to win the lottery, but through fertility instead of purchasing a scratch-off ticket.

This is why wealthier nations typically see lower overall numbers of children being born. There is less of a fear that a child will die, of course, but there is also less of a fear of not having financial resources available in the future.

How Can the World Support 90 Million New People Each Year?

The United Nations regards the consumption of 2,200 kilocalories on a daily basis as a requirement for healthy living. Yet food availability has increased to more than 2,500 kilocalories per person on the planet right now. This means poverty is being caused by unequal resource consumption, not overpopulation.

To solve this issue, we must work on a global scale to be able to use the world’s resources in a balance manner. Developed countries must find ways to moderate resource use so that the developing world can receive the share it needs for healthy living. There must also be a complete and honest evaluation of government structures that promote unequal resource sharing so that artificial poverty can be resolved.

Artificial poverty is something that affects every country. Otherwise there wouldn’t be 20% of US children suffering from a scarcity of food. We already have some of this structure in place. When it comes to cereals, the world’s poorest 20% of the population is consuming an equal or greater share of the food resources that exist.

Yet in terms of energy, meat, and fish, the world’s poorest are only consuming 4-5% of available resources, while the world’s richest 20% is consuming 45-58% of the available resources.

Through family planning, education, and rising the status of women in particular while lowering government corruption and artificial poverty, we will naturally limit the issue of overpopulation. Yet many will still continue to use overpopulation as an excuse for persistent poverty. Until we understand the fact that it is the health of global households which must be improved, there will still be persistent overpopulation in pockets of the world where having a child to help is the only hope that parents have for a better life.

Maybe there will be 10 billion people on our planet in 2050. Maybe there will be a few more or a few less than that. It is clear, however, that we are creating our own conditions for poverty through our self-created socioeconomic structures. There is already enough food for everyone to be healthy. When people are healthy, they can focus more on educational and vocational opportunities which may be available to them.

And when that happens, the evidence proves that overpopulation levels will naturally decline. It looks like overpopulation and poverty are linked, but only because households are looking for ways to get themselves out of poverty and their fertility is the only asset that is available to them. Change the available assets and the world will change too.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.