Is Overpopulation the Cause of Poverty?

There are many people who argue that the biggest problem in South Asia is overpopulation. This assertion has been repeated so often over the years that it has almost become common wisdom. Its adherents include a lot of well-educated individuals and one often hears the argument from government officials as an explanation for the inability to reduce poverty.

There are a number of problems with this simple proposition. First of all, population is not a very useful measure by itself simply because it fails to account for the size of the land in which the population resides. Some countries like Russia have a very large area while others like Singapore have a very small one. Therefore the appropriate indicator to use in order to make valid comparisons is population density (i.e., population per unit of land area).

Using this indicator one would find, for example, that Belgium has a very high population density, Pakistan is in the middle, and Somalia ranks very low. Of these countries, Belgium is not the one with the most difficulties. Nor does Somalia have the fewest. Just looking at population or population density tells us very little about a society’s problems.

Within individual countries we can find similar situations. Take Pakistan, for example. Balochistan has the lowest population density amongst the provinces. But Balochistan is by no means better off than the other provinces because of its low population and population density.

This raises an interesting issue for those who subscribe to the overpopulation hypothesis. Would Balochistan, with all its natural resources and its small population, be much better off if it were a sovereign country by itself? I am sure the believers of the hypothesis would quickly find many arguments to refute the implication of their own assertion. The question would force them to abandon the simple answer and start thinking of the many other factors that actually influence economic and social development.

Consider another interesting situation. When Bangladesh became independent, what remained of Pakistan lost more than half its population and the small part of its land area that was widely believed to have been a drain on the resources of West Pakistan. Did the significant reduction in population and the removal of the resource drain trigger an immediate economic boom in Pakistan? And if not, why not? The simple relationship of population and development fails to provide an answer to the question.

The second point to consider is that even population density is an incomplete measure because all the land in a country is not equally valuable when it comes to supporting its population. Deserts and mountains are of little value in this regard. It is the habitable and cultivable land that matters.

Japan and China both have relatively small endowments of such land while the latter has the largest population in the world. Yet Japan, despite its relative lack of natural resources, is amongst the richest countries in the world. And China has been recording very high economic growth rates for many years lifting millions of its people out of poverty. The simple proposition fails to explain much of what has been going on in these two countries either.

As a matter of fact, one could quite plausibly argue that poverty is not due to overpopulation. Rather, overpopulation could well be a result of poverty. Empirical evidence shows clearly that as households become economically better off the average family size tends to decrease.

In fact, a larger population can even be considered an advantage. Many European countries are actively encouraging their citizens to increase the size of their families. So is Singapore — a very small and densely populated island. Global firms are keen to invest in highly populated countries like India and China because of their large consumer markets.

The issue is obviously not as simple as it seems. The point of these stark and somewhat extreme examples is to stress the need to abandon the simple explanation for the problem of poverty in South Asia. Only then would we be able to debate the real causes and reasons for the slow pace of development.

The belief in overpopulation as the cause of poverty encourages a sense of helplessness because there is no obvious solution. Even if we accept that South Asia is overpopulated what are we going to do with all the people who are already here? We need to think of people as a source of strength and not as a problem. The sensible strategy would be to invest in people to make then as productive as possible in order to promote economic development and reduce poverty. 

Population densities in 1999 (in persons per square kilometer) for the countries mentioned in the article were as follows: Singapore 5,500, Bangladesh 950, Belgium 340, Japan 340, India 340, Pakistan 180, China 135, Somalia 12, Russia 9. Data for all countries is available at:

The following posts examine other commonly advanced reasons for poverty and underdevelopment:

Is Illiteracy a Cause of Poverty?
Is Poverty the Cause of Illiteracy?
Corruption and Development
Faith and Development
Is Faith Necessary for Progress?
Governance and Morality

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  • Uzair
    Posted at 20:07h, 01 February Reply

    I think the overpopulation-is-bad argument can be encapsulated in one simple statement: increasing aggregate demand is not a great idea for deficit economies.

    As you say, a large population is a potential goldmine of human capital. All it needs is training and leadership.

    Good read.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 02:49h, 23 March Reply

    I think the trick is whether the country can make a smooth and successful transition to an economy based on services.

    For example, the US has only about 23 % of its working population employed in the primary and secondary sectors. 77 % are in the service sector. By contrast India has only 28 % of the population in the service sector, China 32 % and Pakistan 36.6 %. It is when you rely on people’s services that their own skills become an economic asset. In the other two sectors, especially in agriculture a large population is a liability. Especially since agriculture is inherently a very risky occupation with relatively low economic returns.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 02:28h, 24 March Reply

    Vikram, It is true that population has to move out of agriculture into higher productivity employment. There are some issues with moving directly to services. First, from the data you cite, Pakistan might seem the most advanced service economy. However, the bulk of this is the informal economy, i.e., very low value-added services often just disguised underemployment. Second, even high tech services, as in India, cannot employ a very large number of people, specially those without education. So, the industry phase cannot be skipped. The problem now is that in a globally competitive economy with WTO rules, it is very hard to compete in industry with the kind of labor force (and infrastructure) that exists in India and Pakistan. Major investments in people and infrastructure are needed which is where the financing becomes a constraint.

    China has avoided these issues by concentrating on low-tech manufacturing as the backbone of the economy and investing in both people and infrastructure. The focus now is to graduate regions like Shanghai and Beijing into the post-industrial economy concentrating on the advanced service sector.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 03:13h, 24 March Reply

    I agree with you on almost everything, the main purpose of quoting the Pakistan, India, China data was to compare it with the US.

    Can you please elaborate on what you mean by an industry phase ? It seems that a lot of the population can move to clerical/office/sales kind of work with the right training. Not that industry isnt required, only that it can come along in parallel with a service economy (which can finance it).

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 17:02h, 24 March Reply

    Vikram, I was thinking along the following lines:

    Clerical/office/sales work requires some education and a familiarity with ‘office culture.’ What are we going to do with the large pools of underutilized rural labor in India and Pakistan that are illiterate (40 to 50 percent of the populations)? And how is rural labor going to make the social and cultural transition to urban living?

    In the short run we need to create jobs for this labor and also help it urbanize. These can only be unskilled jobs in manufacturing. In the West, this was a part of the Industrial Revolution with its huge demand for unskilled industrial jobs in cities (where living conditions were abominable). To some extent, China managed the transition better with its phase of rural industrialization and Town and Village Enterprises accompanied by universal education before allowing migrants to move to the major cities.

    Some countries in East Asia (e.g., Korea, Taiwan) skipped a part of this transition by investing in education ahead of time and thus moving to somewhat more sophisticated manufacturing based on outsourcing from the West.

    In the subcontinent, the process started with industries like textiles which were a major absorber of unskilled labor. But with global competition and the loss of market protections, most industries in Indian and Pakistan are not competitive due to relatively unproductive labor and poor infrastructure. High-end services (such as IT in India) need advanced skills and in any case are not employment intensive. Low-end services cannot exist in a vacuum; they have to serve some growth centers which can only be centered on manufacturing.

    So, we are back to the question: what are we going to do with the large pools of illiterate and untrained labor in the short run? Given the lack of global competitiveness, we could turn inwards and manufacture the simple commodities which the bulk of our population needs. We have to give more importance to our citizens and increase their purchasing power so that they can effectively demand the type of goods that a domestically-oriented industry can produce while employing the type of labor we have at the moment. At the same time we have to invest in human capital and in infrastructure so that we can move out of the low-end as early as possible.

    It is interesting that in the global recession with its shrinking of global demand, China is following the same strategy. The major difference is that China has huge financial reserves to implement the strategy and hardly any opposition that might stand in the way.

    If you are interested you can read the article Textiles: Can Pakistan Compete? on this blog.

  • Kiran Varanasi
    Posted at 12:33h, 10 May Reply

    The population issue is a red herring developed in the late years of imperialism in order to explain away the monumental poverty in the colonies, which was the result of the draining of their resources to the imperialist power.

    It is amusing that it is still being used in the 21st century despite the gross failure of its proponents. The green revolution has successfully demonstrated that poor countries can achieve self sufficiency in food. The rapid growth of huge countries such as China and India has proved that even industrialization is possible. The only argument left is environmental destruction : which is being exploited today by neo-imperialist powers for whatever it offers.

    The real limits of human population size are set by a delicate interplay of natural resources and the level of technology that is in vogue. The earth can only support about 40,000 hunter gatherers, about a few million people in primitive agricultural societies (such as the ancient river valley civilizations), about several million in well irrigated agricultural societies (classical age of Roman, Persian, Chinese and Indian civilizations) and about a few billions in industrialized societies. The fact that the third world is getting industrialized means that it can support more people than it used to.

    However, the increase of population should follow the economic and technological development. Not the other way around. The third world countries had to grossly suffer when this equation turned topsy-turvy during the phase of colonization. It is only now that these countries are catching up on technological and human resource development.

    About what share of people work in services vs agriculture vs manufacturing, it doesn’t matter. It is a consequence, not a cause. The real cause of elimination of poverty is industrialization / automation of manual labor. With the level of technology that is available to us today, most forms of labor can be automated. We should see a reduction of working hours everywhere in the world. If this is not happening, it is because our economic systems are screwed up, nothing else. Ultimately, in a matter of a century (or even shorter, a few decades), robots will takeover all forms of human labor. Humans will become dispensable. The ultimate future of humanity hinges on who is in control at that time : whether it is the humans or certain social and economic systems that just want to preserve their existence.

  • Robert Gates
    Posted at 17:42h, 14 January Reply

    Population density is not a determinate of “compound misery” as Malthus saw from the Irish famine. A term used in cattle grazing, or horse production is “carrying capacity”, in other words the ability of the grass pasture to support the animal population density without over grazing and it’s final result of extinction. Perhaps the term should not be “over-population” but rather population beyond resource avilability and or distribution. Or the community’s inability to anticipate and cope with Mother Nature’s superior ability to determine wheather man, or any living thing survives. The ability to anticipate Mother Nature, or Man’s eratic responce to resource availability is education quality. If the quality of education does not expand at a rate higher that the population growth rate and it’s expectation of resource availability, then we fall into the trap of inability to anticipate and cope with Mother Nature. In other words, it is not just the population growth rate, but combined with the resource expectation factor. I speculate the green revolution of improved SE Asia rice did nothing but increase the population growth rate and resource expectation factor far beyond education qualtiy improvement increase.
    If we are to cope with compound misery, lowering of resource expectation is highly unlikely given man’s tendancy to pluck the forbidden fruit in the garden of eden. Increasing education quality, again unlikely since the steep ramp required to catch up with the combined exponential rate of population growth multiplied by the resources expectation. Oh, one other option already disproved by the Soviets, squash human ambition so the expectation of resource factor is eliminated. Then we just have universal misery, rather than spots of localized compound misery.
    Solution: Lower the rate of population increase as Italy of all places has done, but still hasn’t solved the problem of resource avalilability, so population growth needs even lower rate of population growth or an unlikely much higher rate of education quality increase.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 14:43h, 17 January

      Robert: The concept of ‘carrying capacity’ is a very important one but carrying capacity is not fixed or static – over time the carrying capacity of the earth has been increasing. Of course, it cannot be pushed infinitely and that is a limit we might be running up against at this moment.

      On education, I am not sure why it cannot keep up with population growth – there is no good reason for such a conclusion. Of course, the quality of education is a different issue but again there are no logistical reasons for lack of quality – the political reasons are more important. For example, slaves were not allowed to gain education in the US South – this was a political decision with no link to resource constraints.

      A point to keep in mind that all the key policies are made by people who are highly educated so the praise or blame for our predicament has to be attributed to those with education not those without. See an essay about this issue on the blog – Why is Pakistan Half Illiterate?

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 19:33h, 19 March Reply

    The following is a useful article to think about: The Overpopulation Myth by Fred Pearce.

    Note a crucial assertion in the article and relate it to the numbers cited in support: “It is over-consumption, not over-population that matters.”

    The logic that the author has applied at the global scale holds equally within individual countries. The excuse that overpopulation is the cause of our problems needs to be challenged. In any case, there is no way we can get rid of the people who have already been born. We need to look at our people as assets not as liabilities.

    The real question to ask our leaders is the following: Why have you kept half our population illiterate? Why haven’t you invested in them and raised their productivity so that they can earn more and contribute to economic growth?

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 16:52h, 12 April Reply

    This recent column reiterates the point we had emphasized in the post – the really meaningful indicator is not population nor population density using the total area of a country but population density using the amount of farmland available. The column gives it a nice name – Real Population Density (people per square kilometer of farmland) and provides comparable figures for a number of countries.

    One can see how silly it is to argue that overpopulation is the cause of our problems without relating it to the availability of farmland. And even then, readers will note that some of the countries with the highest RPD are also the most prosperous in the world.


    • Vikram
      Posted at 13:41h, 13 April

      I agree with the gist of the argument, but one also has to consider factors like climate and water supply to complete the argument. Although, it has more arable land, India’s farmland is significantly less productive than other countries. And water is a particularly big issue.

      I think the perception of overpopulation in its raw form arises more from seeing India’s cities, which are definitely more crowded than those of China. The top 3 most populous cities of India and China have 55 and 43 million people respectively. China has been much more successful in generating employment in smaller cities and villages than India, thus being able to better absorb its growing population.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 15:19h, 13 April

      Vikram: It is important for the starting point to be correct otherwise one can go completely astray. It is surprising how many people, including those in political offices, make the argument that overpopulation is the cause of poverty. Population without reference to some measure of resources does not mean much. The article makes the point that both Population and Raw Population Density are poor indicators. Real Population Density (population per unit of farmland) is a better starting point.

      The next step is to point out that population related measures have very little relation to the poverty or underdevelopment of countries. One just has to look at the comparative data for countries to realize that. So the fixation with population can lead us far away from diagnosing the real causes of poverty.

      Of course, if the objective was to study agricultural output one would have to refine Real Population Density even further, as you suggest, simply because all farmland is not of the same quality. One would have to standardize farmland (e.g., Grade A, Grade B etc.) and use a weighted average which would yield a Corrected Real Population Density that would be comparable across countries.

      Thanks for the useful link. The success of the Town and Village Enterprises in China is well known. The important point here is that urbanization policy cannot be considered independently of industrial and economic policy. This point was developed in an earlier post on the blog:

  • Vinod
    Posted at 16:00h, 13 April Reply

    To those arguing over population as the cause of all ills, one can ask what is the optimum population and how does one arrive at it. I think that question will place them in a quandary.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:00h, 13 April

      Vinod: I agree. The question certainly forces one to think beyond the obvious. In earlier years, a popular answer used to be that optimum population depends on the “carrying capacity of the land.” This is conceptually correct at the national level but can never yield a hard number because the carrying capacity can change over time and the standard at which the population lives can also vary. At the level of a city, the notion of optimum population is of no use whatsoever. There was a post on the blog related to this some time back:

  • farhan ali
    Posted at 15:41h, 25 May Reply

    sir you have a very detailed knowledge about this issue. and vinod also elaborate the topic. sir could you please help me in making me a presentation on population growth-the main cause of poverty and illetracy. sir i wan to make a brief but comprehensive presentation on this topic. kindly provides me some facts and figures relating this topic. i shall be highly thankful to you.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:25h, 25 May

      Farhan: This is not an issue where one needs to make theoretical arguments. One just needs to look at the evidence. All one needs to do in a brief presentation is to show evidence to the viewers so that they can reach their own conclusion.

      If you wish to show the relation between overpopulation on the one hand and poverty and illiteracy on the other, the three posts on the blog will give you all the evidence you need. Just make three lists that rank order countries by measures of population, wealth and literacy (I would suggest population density, GDP per capita and literacy rate – all these can be found on the Internet for countries). Then see if you can establish any relationship between the three lists. Are the countries with the highest population density also the ones with the most poverty and greatest illiteracy? Are countries with the lowest population density also the ones with the most wealth and the most illiteracy?

      If you wish to show the relation between population growth rate and poverty or illiteracy, the procedure is not as simple because population growth rates have been decreasing over time and it is population growth rates of the past that should affect the nature of development in the present. However, you can make a different argument. Countries are going through a period of urbanization. This means that the population growth rates of urban areas should be higher than that of rural areas. But is it the case that there is more poverty and illiteracy in cities compared to rural areas?

      And you can follow this up by showing evidence that the natural rate of population growth when the effect of migration is excluded (average family size) in urban areas is lower than in rural areas. In fact, historical evidence confirms that it is not lower population growth that leads to higher wealth; rather, it is higher wealth that leads to lower population growth. And higher rates of economic growth have to do with policy choices not population size or growth rates. The examples of China and India (as mentioned in the post) make this very obvious.

  • farhan ali
    Posted at 16:39h, 26 May Reply

    sir thank for giving me a new direction in regards to overpopulation. could you please send me some strong links on poverty,illetracy and poverty which will helps me further to make it clear.

  • Jim
    Posted at 08:39h, 14 September Reply

    The majority of people who argue that population is not the main cause of poverty are Asians and Africans, reason being that these people want to live like their ancestors, in an absent-minded cultural or religious ignorance and docility. Hence the reason poverty-related overpopulation thrives in these 2 continents. No matter how you try to argue it, population numbers must be aligned with the carrying capacity of any nation. China and India despite huge economic gains continue to record high number of insufficient resources and poverty among its citizens due to over population.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 14:13h, 14 September

      Jim: I have a number of responses to your comment:

      1. You have made a very strong claim that Asians and Africans “want to live like their ancestors.” What evidence can you provide to support this claim?

      2. What do you intend by the statement that China and India “continue to record high number of insufficient resources”?

      3. What do you mean by “poverty-related overpopulation”? Are you saying that overpopulation is due to poverty?

      4. How would you determine the “carrying capacity of any nation”?

      5. Note that the article discussed the relationship of population and poverty at the level of individual countries. If you plot these variables on a graph (using a measure of population controlled for area), you will find no correlation either across or within countries. However, there is need for a different discussion if one is talking at the aggregate global level where there is a real tension between population and resource constraints. But resource constraints are tied closely to the model of growth and that choice cannot be assumed as a given. It has to be debated and discussed.

  • ahmed
    Posted at 13:52h, 13 December Reply

    overpopullation is defined as an inability to an environment to support the existing popullation of humans or other living species of that environment. keeping this definition of overpopullation in view, one should not consider the most popullatd country as an overpopullated country. because these countries have large land mass and should contain more people. The Question is, does overpopullation cause poverty? i think population does not always cause problems as per example. Pakistan has four provinces.i.e. Pakhtoonkhwa, Balochistan, Punjab and Sind. among these, Punjab is most popullated with less land mass and is not poor. on the other hand Balochistan is least popullated with more land mass and is the poor among all.

  • Albastru
    Posted at 14:47h, 22 June Reply

    I have an idea how to stop poverty. How about STOP HAVING CHILDREN. As far as I know the story with the stork has been proven inaccurate. Having children is a choice. Most of homeless people are families with children. Does anybody think that maybe the reason they are homeless is because they chose to have children when they couldn’t afford them? And don’t tell me they don’t have enough money to buy condoms, but they believe they will have enough money to raise one, two, three or 7 children.
    Let’s be realistic. The main reason why the world is going to hell is because overpopulation. But of course nobody has the courage to say it. We all love children, right? How about starving children, homeless children, abused children? Instead of sending supplies to all these poor families and poor people we should start sending them condoms. The majority of poor families have more than one child. How is that possible? There are 2 poor people they have nothing to eat and they decide one day: “let’s have a child, that will solve all of our problems”. The first child is born, they are still poor and they said: “let’s have another one, that will make it better”. And so on…
    Children’s welfare will improve as there are fewer of them to care for. Considering the future world we are creating for future generations, procreation today is like renting rooms in a burning building, renting them to our children no less.

    Want to see some facts? Check this out:

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 00:48h, 24 June

      Albastru: This blog takes a position different from yours for the simple reason that it does not relate global or national poverty to numbers. Consider this fact: Americans make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population but consume over 30 percent of its resources. Within the US the top 1 percent of the population has more then 90 percent of the national wealth. Within India, the percentages would not be much different. Based on your argument, the solution would be much more effective if the rich and not the poor stopped having children.

      The population of the world was much, much smaller two thousand years ago. Yet, poverty existed even then – It was in the Bible that the poor will always be with you. In 1798 the Reverend Thomas Malthus though there were too many people in the world. The global population was 1 billion at that time (it is 7 billion now) and yet there was rampant poverty.

      We have to get rid of this notion that poverty is related to population or that there is some magic number of people that is optimal for the world. If there is such a number can you hazard an estimate of what it is and what is the basis for such an estimate.

      If by the world ‘going to hell’ you are referring to the environmental crisis, you should keep in mind that this really begins with the Industrial Revolution and the industrial and commercial use of fossil fuels – this is a history of little more than 300 years. It has nothing to do with population simply because resource use per capita is not the same across individuals. Oil consumption per person is almost 25 times higher in the US compared to India (see this table: And, within, India the distribution would be equally skewed.

    • Albastru
      Posted at 14:11h, 24 June

      Thank you for your reply. I tried to post my comments to multiple sites mainly by curiosity to see if how many websites will post it. Let’s say it was about 5%.
      Anyway your facts are absolutely true. From the environment point of view rich people will have a higher impact on the environment than the poor ones. But either way the population is rising and our resources are diminishing. So I believe either rich or poor the solution would be to stop the population increase. Not by some law or by war, but by choice. To give all people access to information and allow them to make their own choice. That’s why these is a website which is great for answering all the questions anybody might have why Not Breading it’s the best choice.
      If we were to look at 2 extreme situations: USA and most of African countries.
      In USA people are being rewarded for having children. How? By welfare and tax breaks. I just cannot figure out why when when a family cannot support themselves but they choose to have a child (or 2 or 5) the government rewards them by sending them more money. (as a tax break or welfare). The money is running out, soon there will be no more taxpayers to support all these bad decisions.
      We have to start taking responsibility for our actions and not expect handouts from others.
      Now in Africa there is another story. We all have seen the adds on TV about the starving children. All these organizations asking for donations to feed the children. They are all trying to help and I admire them for that. But sending money and food will not solve the problem. Educating them about birth control will stop the problem. Having less and less children will stop the problem.
      We’ve all seen that heartbreaking photograph of A vulture watches a starving child in southern Sudan, March 1, 1993. How can we look at that and then believe that yes, let’s have more children and we’ll figure out a way to feed them.
      Poverty will always exist as long as there are people on Earth. But increasing the number of people cannot stop the poverty. It can only go the other way around. What would be the magic number of people on Earth? How about not 7 billion, or 10 billion which we are going to reach pretty soon. We’ve been going in one direction for a very long time, which is more people. It doesn’t seem to be working very well. Maybe it’s time to try something else, let’s try 6 billion and see if things will change. As long as we are going forward with increasing the world population we will never know if maybe decreasing the number of people will be the solution.
      I appreciate your time and even if our opinions are different I admire your knowledge and the fact that you allow other people’s thoughts on your website.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:27h, 25 June

      Albastru: This forum is meant for discussions so it makes sense to provide space for contrary opinions.

      I don’t quite see the rationale of trying 6 billion as the optimal population. The population was 6 billion some decades back but the poverty situation was not very different. In fact, even when the population was 1 billion poverty was still widespread.

      We need to be clear about the objective we wish to advocate. If it is simply to have fewer people, then it is a personal preference. Some countries subscribe to that and some don’t.

      If the objective is to reduce poverty, we have already argued that poverty is not related to numbers. There is ample evidence that when people become better off they have fewer children. So, reducing poverty would reduce the growth rate of population. Therefore, our focus should be on economic policies that reduce poverty. In theory, the redistribution of wealth (e.g., land reforms, progressive taxation, etc.) is one answer.

      If the objective is to reduce the depletion of resources, again this is not related to numbers. As we have argued, per capita resource consumption is very unevenly distributed. Just a few days back Dr. Manmohan Singh said in the UN that the consumption levels of the industrialized world were unsustainable. The irony is that middle class Indians all aspire to the same levels of consumption.

      Readers would also find this article of interest:

      “But this new paper, Weight of Nations: An Estimation of Adult Human Biomass, just published in the London-based journal BMC Public Health suggests we should be more concerned about where the babies are born, not how many there are.”

      Also, those who have not come across Jonathan Swift’s classic 1729 piece (A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland
      From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public) should not stay deprived of its power.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 13:33h, 14 September Reply

    An op-ed in the New York Times arguing that overpopulation is not the problem:

  • KTShamim
    Posted at 12:05h, 10 February Reply

    Human capital. Excellent article!

  • Pilton Miah
    Posted at 19:02h, 06 May Reply

    Pakistan lost more than half its population and the small part of its land area that was widely believed to have been a drain on the resources of West Pakistan. Did the significant reduction in population and the removal of the resource drain trigger an immediate economic boom in Pakistan? And if not, why not?

    Because it was a myth. West Pakistan was a net beneficiary in this relationship. East Pakistan paid more in taxes than the West, but received only a small fraction of the budget [>30%] expenditures. This was one of the main gripes of the independence movement in the first place.


    Population density is not the only cause of poverty surely, but it certainly does correlate with it well. The most densely populated metros/cities on the planet [Dhaka, Manila, Karachi, Mumbai] are also some of the poorest. The less populated areas [Santa Fe, Stockholm, Oslo, Vancouver] tend to be much richer.

    You also have to do a quantitative assessment of when a city becomes densely populated. Is it before it gets rich or after i.e. does the economic boom attract new migrants, thus making the population density higher or does the increased population actually increase the wealth? I can’t say for sure, but I would bet on the former rather than the latter being the mechanism behind rich cities having a higher population density than normal.

    There are places that are densely populated and rich. Hong Kong and Singapore come to mind. However, it’s important to note that even these places do not come close to capturing the density of a Manila, Mumbai or Dhaka. You also have to remember that they were even less densely populated in the past.

    Crowded cities that do not have the infrastructure to support such heavy loads are under much stress already. To then plan and organize infrastructure development is made extremely difficult in practice. The issue of clearing up slums in a place with the population density of Somalia is far easier than a place with the population density of Kolkata. This does not mean the two areas are equivalent, because geographical terrain, obstacles and topology are different. However, all things being equal, it is easier to plan and develop infrastructure in a less crowded area.

    So while population density::wealth is not a 1::1 relationship, they are somewhat related. The more densely populated the area, the greater the tendency it has to be poor, all other things being equal. There are also the sanitation, educational, sewage, pollution and infrastructural problems that become multiplied in crowded areas. Crammed areas are nearly ALWAYS more dirty [Singapore & Stockholm are both extremely clean, however the draconian measures that the former had to put in place is a few orders of magnitude greater than anything the latter had to do].

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 15:16h, 02 June Reply

    A recent article on the population explosion hype:

    “In Mr. Pearce’s view, the villain is not overpopulation but, rather, overconsumption.”

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