Demographic Transitions from the Past

Sir David Attenborough, a famous naturalist and broadcaster for the BBC, writes on population forecasts over the last fifty years, and how wrong they can get.

People are not good at seeing the future, particularly the future of people. The problem is that people are changeable, they don’t always do in the future what they do now. People, being people, know this – or should – but often carry on regardless.

Total population change in a country comprises three elements: migration, lifespan and fertility. In no case have people done what they were meant to. The numbers came out and then, drat them, people had the nerve to live even longer, just like that. [link]

While we are familiar with the concept of the demographic transition, Britishers in the 1960s apparently weren’t. Take a look at the actual number of births along with some forecasts from the past.


Sir David is a member of the Optimum Population Trust, a group that advocates population control by killing everyone whose household income is in the lowest quintile. I’m joking of course – that would be a version of a modern day Malthus. The OPT actually asks for voluntarily limiting births, and a few other humane options for limiting population growth, to allow for the protection of wildlife and nature.

Be Sociable, Share!

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! You can also follow me on Twitter here.

4 comments for “Demographic Transitions from the Past

  1. Jennifer Stanton
    April 16, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    So are you bringing this up because it implies there are just as many animal spirits that determine fertility rates as there are manifested in stock market fluctuations?

    (Akerlof, G.A., (2009) Animal Spirits: how human psychology drives the economy, and why it matters for global capitalism)

  2. Arnav
    April 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Animal spirits and fertility rates? Don’t really see the connection there…

  3. Jennifer Stanton
    April 23, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Yeah, I know they are completely different, but where’s the fun in life if you can’t play around with seemingly unrelated concepts? Think about it, the decision to have a kid relies on many factors. But we can simplify it down like our “investment” model: fear and greed. It’s been going down in all the rich countries because of greed. People like being rich or having lots of leisure time, and they don’t want to waste their hard earned money or free time investing in raising children. But on the other hand, you have fear; fear that if you don’t have children, was their any purpose to your life, what will you do when you get bored of your marriage, who will visit you when you’re old and look after you when you’re not working anymore, etc, etc. Haven’t you ever thought about why no one is having children anymore? (Japan, Europe) Is it because of the expectation that “no one is having children anymore?”

  4. Rabia Akram
    April 28, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    In my biology 1B class, Professor Resh, was talking about how the investment in children is different in countries like Bangladesh and the United States. Raising a child in the United States is far more costly than it is in 3rd world countries, you need diapers when they are young, school supplies, toys, brand name clothes, entertainment, video games, and etc. the list could go on for ever. But children in third world countries just require the basic resources for survival food, water and shelter. So children in countries like the US are using up 250 times the resources of a child from a poor country. That is why we are having fewer children because it is more expensive for us to raise a child due to our higher standard of living. Where as the poor nations, have as many kids as they possibly can so they can get jobs at young ages and start helping to feed the family, the more workers the more chances of getting a meal.

Leave a Reply