Fewer children are being born, but Elon Musk need not fear underpopulation

  • A declining birth rate is by far the biggest threat to civilization and the world is facing an underpopulation crisis, Elon Musk said on Twitter.
  • The statement is surprising, because a new report from the UN shows that the world’s population is still growing.
  • According to scientists, therefore, there is no underpopulation crisis, as Elon Musk says. Our planet is in danger of becoming overpopulated.
  • He is right that the birth rate is falling, and this could cause problems in the future.

A declining birth rate is by far the biggest threat to civilization.

Elon Musk, CEO of electric car maker Tesla and space company SpaceX, said on Twitter.

The tweet comes shortly after it was revealed that the multi-billionaire fathered twins with an employee last year.

“I’m doing my part in the underpopulation crisis,” Elon Musk wrote in the tweet.

Several people are surprised by his firm conclusion, because projections show that the world population is growing. A report from the United Nations came out a few days ago which estimates that this will be the case until at least 2100.

There is therefore cause for concern about the global scarcity of resources and the influence of population growth on the climate, say researchers to the Danish media TjekDet. They disagree with Musk that we are facing an underpopulation crisis.

Still, he has a point. Because while life expectancy is increasing all over the world, fewer children are being born, especially in the Western world. And that can cause problems in the long run.

More elderly, fewer young people

The global birth rate has been declining for some time. According to the UN report, women had an average of five children in 1950 and 2.3 children in 2021. In 2050, the figure will be 2.1.

Especially in the Western world, only a few children are born. In 2021, only 1.5 children were born per woman in Europe and North America – in the Netherlands the number was 1.54 in 2020. The African countries together have the highest birth rate in the world with 4.27 children per woman, but here too the number is falling . .

This decline is due to many people actively choosing to have fewer children than before. But it has also become more difficult to have children, says Rune Lindahl-Jacobsen, professor of demography at the Department of Health Research at the University of Southern Denmark.

Every fifth couple has problems conceiving. It probably has to do with the environment that many people live in. We are surrounded by all sorts of harmful substances, such as phthalates, which disrupt hormones and affect fertility,’ he says.

“Currently, all high- and middle-income countries are below the replacement level of 2.1 – meaning that each woman needs to have 2.1 children to maintain population levels,” he says.

The falling birth rate in itself would not be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the world’s population is also getting older, says Flemming Konradsen, professor of global environmental health at the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen.

Worldwide, life expectancy for those born today averages 72.6 years, compared to 64.2 years in 1990. In many countries, a decline in the number of births combined with an increase in life expectancy means that the proportion of people in work falls. , resulting in fewer people being left to care for the growing number of elderly people. This is perhaps what Elon Musk means when he talks about a crisis.’

Torben M. Andersen believes that it is wrong, however, to equate the skewed population growth in western countries in particular with a worldwide underpopulation crisis. He is a professor of economics at the University of Denmark in Aarhus and researches, among other things, welfare models and demography.

‘I can’t quite follow Elon Musk in that regard. On a global scale, all forecasts show that the world population will increase. And then you have to look at the resource issue. So how many citizens are there in relation to the resources needed to maintain them,’ he says.

“In that light, there’s no denying that we’re headed for overpopulation.”

Solutions are there

All three researchers point out that the demographic problems of more elderly people and fewer young people can be solved by, for example, raising the retirement age and taxes, so that people stay longer in the labor market and there is more money to support the elderly.

‘But then people must be prepared to work longer, save more for pensions, receive fewer benefits or accept people from countries where there is still a birth surplus,’ says Konradsen.

“It is not necessarily popular or politically easy, but it can be done,” says Andersen.

Solving the global problems of population growth is becoming even more difficult.

“Global resource and pollution problems are more difficult to tackle because they also require global agreement,” says Andersen.

‘And the discussions about the climate show how much time passes between recognizing a problem and taking concrete, coordinated action.’

Differences in resource consumption

The resource problem worsens if we want to give low-income countries the same standard of living as ours, Konradsen said.

“Here in the West, we use many more resources per person than people in many places in Africa, e.g. So you can say that it is a bigger problem if there are many Danes than if there are many people living in, for example, Mali, because they use fewer resources there than we do,’ he says.

Therefore, Musk’s claim that the world is moving towards underpopulation is simplistic. But conversely, it is also simplistic to say that the Earth is overpopulated, Lindahl-Jacobsen believes.

“We already have to deal with overpopulation given our way of life, for example in energy supply. We emit so much CO2 and other greenhouse gases that this has led to today’s climate problems. So what is overpopulation or underpopulation? It all depends on how we live’.

CheckIt tried to get a response from Elon Musk but was unsuccessful.

This article was previously on TjekDet.

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