Population growth sometimes can take on negative connotations, such as in third-world countries where brimming populations tax resources beyond limits. However, many believe population growth has positive effects on societies. These include economic benefits such as expansion of tax bases and increased consumer spending at local businesses, as well as innovations by cultures seeking to keep up with growing populations.
History of the Population Argument
Two general schools of thought surround the perceived effects of population growth. Thomas Malthus theorized in 1798 that too much population growth too fast would overtax the Earth's resources and eventually lead to disease, starvation and death. At the time that he made his prediction, the world's population was only at 800 million, but now, it's over 7 billion. On the other hand, more recent theories suggest that population growth can have just as many positive impacts as there are negative.
Several scholars of the modern era have pointed to the economic benefits of population growth. In the last three decades of the 20th century, the Harvard Initiative for Global Health reported that per capita incomes grew by two-thirds with the doubling of the world's overall population. This, of course, also means that there are lower mortality rates among pregnant women, infants and children.
Another sign of prosperity from population growth can be seen by countries improving their trade structures. Countries that have higher populations also have more people working and most of all, innovating. Take a look at Shenzhen, China. China has had a massive population growth, and today, the country has one of the biggest sharing economies in the world and thus one of the top exporters.
Meanwhile, many economists argue that population growth leads to more property tax dollars, school funding, revenue for local businesses and federal grants flowing to local coffers.
Population growth opponents often have decried the burden on resources. However, Danish economist Ester Boserup has argued that growing populations pressure society to innovate in order to better serve the masses. For instance, high-yield crops were developed to increase food production largely in response to growing populations.
Population Growth as a Sign of Social Health
Although not a direct effect of population growth, growing societies often signify healthy societies. For instance, population growth often signals lower mortality rates through advances in medicine and science. Additionally, countries that have shown a decline in population growth, like Japan, are experiencing a type of crisis. Japan has the highest rate of centenarians in the world and their population is highest among elderly people. This has been a concern for the nation because with fewer people having children, the future of Japan is in danger.
The Key Role of Policy
For population growth to yield positive effects, nations experiencing the growth must have sound policies to direct it. Countries that can develop better health care and medicine, strong economic plans and other social improvements that keep pace with population growth will thrive.
Marc Chase is a veteran investigative newspaper reporter and editor of 12 years. Specializing in computer-assisted reporting, he holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Arts in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois.