The more of us there are, the less planet there is per person.
Addressing population size also has many social benefits. Educating girls and providing access to safe, affordable, and effective family planning are high leverage opportunities. In addition, empowering women is essential for sustainability. When women are respected as equal partners in the household, at work, and in the community, better social outcomes for their families, including health and educational achievements, and lower reproductive rates invariably ensue. Given resource constraints, countries with slowly shrinking populations may have a competitive advantage over countries with growing populations.
If the average family size is half-a-child smaller in the future, i.e. if every second family has on average one child less, there will be one billion fewer of us in the world than the 9.7 billion that the UN expects by 2050 – and four billion fewer by the end of the century. Given increasing longevity, the end of this century is within the expected lifetimes of children born today.
Reducing family size at this rate is equivalent to moving back Earth Overshoot Day by about 30 days, or one month, by 2050. Long-term benefits are even more striking. This continued reduction in family size would result in 50% more biocapacity per person in 2100. More biocapacity makes it easier to have thriving lives for all within the means of the planet.
Investing in smaller families through the empowerment of women is also consistent with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 5 Gender Equality calls for ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. Targets include:
- Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
- Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
Read more in our blog post “Empowering women for a world that works for all.”
Read more about the impact of population size on carbon emissions.