Why World Population Day Matters

In case you hadn’t heard, today is World Population Day and there are now about 7,058,000,000 of us. Another 200,000 will be added tomorrow.


Michael Khoo and his son Dax. Photo courtesy of Michael Khoo.

Last October, when the world hit the 7 billion mark, Population Action International developed an online app (above) called What’s Your Number to show people where they fit in among the many billions. For example, when I was born in 1971, there were 3,810,168,030 people on the planet. By the time my son Dax was born last November, he was baby number 7,004,637,914. But what do those numbers mean? Population conversations usually start with numbers, but they’re really about people.

That’s why population matters. On a large scale, demographers talk about how rapid population growth contributes to migration and urbanization challenges. How it makes education and employment more difficult for struggling countries. Let’s break that down. This means a father might have to leave his village because his farm no longer provides enough to feed his family. It means a girl might be pulled out of school to work and care for younger siblings. It means a woman faces health risks because of repeated births, and has fewer opportunities to work outside of the home.

In a time when climate change is already having drastic effects on agriculture in developing countries, population growth adds even more challenges. Unpredictable rainfall patterns destroy crops and make women and girls walk much farther to get water. When we interviewed Aregash Ayele in rural Ethiopia about it, she said, “A woman’s life is hard, and climate change makes it harder.” So,  what does she do in her limited spare time? Volunteer at the local family planning clinic.

In developing countries, where the majority of population growth will occur, women and families can be empowered to cope with changes that will affect their environment, their economy and their health.

On Monday, the British journal the Lancet released a special issue that looked at how family planning is the key to solving a host of development problems, from maternal mortality, to economic development. Melinda Gates co-authors the introduction, saying, “At the household level, families are able to invest more of their scarce resources in the health and education of their children. Girls from smaller families are more likely to complete their education and women with fewer children are more able to seek employment, increasing household income and assets.”

We know from recent studies [Guttmacher’s Adding It Up] that 222 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy, but lack modern contraception. Programs exist to provide family planning but they are under-funded and too often women must walk miles to the nearest clinic only to return empty handed.

Fortunately, the Gates Foundation today partnered with the UK Department for International Development to announce a new plan to get contraception to 120 million women in the poorest countries who want it. They know that contraception is a simple and critical part of planning for your future. They know that contraception is supported by the vast majority of people, even in the U.S., from across the political spectrum.

The 8 billionth new baby is about a decade away. Let’s give her a life of promise by planning for her future today.

Michael Khoo is Vice President for Communications at Population Action International.

Changing Planet