Winter 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 4 // Commentary // 4LET1

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U. S. ZPG a Myth


I would like to clear up an error in terminology in the Summer 1988 issue under "Will Declining Birth Rates Create a Crisis?" by William H. Reid. The article stated that zero population growth (ZPG) has been reached in all but four of 25 European countries, and also in the United States.

The term "zero population growth" refers to a state where the population is no longer growing. This is not the case with the majority of European countries, nor the United States. The U.S., in fact, is one of the fastest growing of the developed countries. We have an approximate annual increase of 0.7% (higher than all but Iceland and Ireland in western Europe). The Population Reference Bureau has estimated that the U.S. population will grow by about 20 million people by the year 2000 (1987 growth was about 2.3 million). This is not ZPG.

If the U.S. maintains a fertility rate of 1.8, this should eventually lead us toward ZPG. In the interim, there are two major reasons the U.S. population is still growing: (1) a large percentage of our population is in the younger, child-bearing ages and (2) an extremely large influx of immigrants.

The U.S. has a long way to go to achieve ZPG. And the earth as a whole? The UN 1988 State of World Population Report says Earth is gaining 80 million people a year (currently over 5 billion).

Reid mentioned the economic problems (or are they "opportunities") associated with declining population growth rates. However, the human costs of rapid population growth, including rising crime, poverty, joblessness, fighting, stress, and erosion of our natural resource base far outweigh the costs associated with ZPG.

I agree that Extension planners must be cognizant of the changing demographics of the world. At the same time, we should be well-informed of the benefits of working toward ZPG.

Ted May
4-H and Youth Development Agent
Trempealeau County
Whitehall, Wisconsin