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Why child survival helps reduce population growth

“Child survival is the new green,” Hans Rosling said in a popular TED talk about population growth. Surprised? I was, so I’d like to explain what he means and why it matters to the environmental movement.

Basically, when parents expect their children to survive and have access to birth control they have fewer children. If we want to slow population growth (a major environmental issue), then we need basic healthcare and access to birth control for everyone on our planet. Here’s why.

Child Survival

“Saving poor children is an important factor in ending both poverty and population growth. The death of children is not holding back population growth. It is one of the reasons poor people still have many children,” according to GapMinder.org.

In other words, when parents aren’t confident all their children will survive and grow up healthy, they have more children to ensure some will live past childhood. In the United States, child mortality (death) rates are relatively low at .61%. However, in Nigeria, where rates of diseases like malaria are high, 9.79% of children die before their fifth birthday according to GapMinder.

Population Growth

“Contrary to popular belief, accelerated child survival strategies when combined with direct family planning measures, actually result in slower population growth, thereby making a stable and lower total world population attainable earlier,” according to UNICEF.org.

OK, so high child mortality (death) rates lead to population growth, but how does population affect the environment? Basically, more people need more natural resources. All 7.6 billion of us need food, clothes, energy, and a place to call home. For perspective, in 1955, there were 2.7 billion people in the world. In 1980, 4.4 billion. By 2055, there could be 10 billion of us according to Worldometers.


Now, I’ll tell you a bit about malaria. I use malaria as an example of a preventable disease that has an indirect effect on population growth. There are plenty of other preventable diseases like HIV/AIDS, but I’ll save those for another day. Also, because it is so dangerous for children in particular.

429,000 people died from malaria in 2015. 70% were children under five years old, most in Sub-Saharan Africa. These deaths are tragic, but malaria is also a success story. Efforts from international aid organizations and effective philanthropy have reduced malaria cases significantly. 6.2 million malaria deaths were prevented between 2000 and 2015 through fairly simple solutions like families sleeping under insecticide-treated nets, indoor insecticidal spraying, and improved malaria medications according to the World Health Organization.

Birth Control

“Today, more than 300 million women in developing countries are using contraception, but more than 214 million women who want to plan their families do not have access to modern family planning,” according to the UN Population Fund.

Family Planning

We (taxpayers) pay for birth control and pre and postnatal care for mothers through the Family Planning and Reproductive Health initiative of US Aid. It pays for contraception for women in developing countries and $607.5 million is allocated for FY2018. That money will pay for 25 million women to have contraception, prevent 3.3 million unplanned births, prevent 3.2 million induced abortions, and prevent 14,600 maternal deaths in developing countries according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Population Growth As Only Hans Rosling Can Explain It

Healthy children make a healthy planet. There’s no way around it. But we shouldn’t save children for the environment. We should prioritize children simply because all kids deserve the right to an equal chance at living a healthy, prosperous life. But the fortunate side effect is a greener planet for us all.

For a better explanation, see Hans Rosling explain population growth one IKEA box at a time. He passed away in 2017, but his work continues on GapMinder.org. To learn more about this fascinating world we live in, check out his book: Factfulness – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think*. A big thank you to GapMinder.org for the above charts.

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