A range of strategies have been tried by countries experiencing rapid population growth.

Population change can cause a range of social, economic, environmental and political implications on countries. These problems can be very different between LEDCs and MEDCs. Poorer countries often have a very high birth rate and their problem is trying to provide for many young and growing populations resulting from many years of population growth. In MEDCs they are having to cope with ageing populations and a reduction in the number of working population.

Rapid population growth

Many developing countries are experiencing rapid population growth and are now having to deal with the increasing pressure. This has made their development unsustainable.

Environmental Social Economic Political

  • Increasing population leads to increasing pollution.
  • Old vehicles and unsupervised factory emissions > air pollution > effects of human health
  • Poor sanitation > rivers being used for waste and litter disposal > water pollution > disease
  • Shantytowns build on marginal land can increase risk of landslides.
  • Overfarming in rural areas can lead to desertification (land is turned into desert as a result of human activities) as the soil is degraded.
  • Deforestation as forest is cut down for fuel.
  • Difficult to feed everyone > millions go hungry
  • Poor healthcare > millions of people suffer and die from illnesses and diseases that could be cured and prevented.
  • Low living standards and rising crime.
  • Lack of education > unemployment.
  • Can’t afford to provide enough schools and teachers > millions of people don’t get education and skills that would lift them out of poverty > country can’t develop
  • Poverty in rural areas is transferred to urban areas by migration > overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing.
  • Developing countries often have huge international debts > can’t improve living standards for population.
  • Problem for governments and city authorities is how to plan and pay for public services (education and healthcare), public utilities (water, electricity, sanitation) and housing.

Sustainable development means ‘meeting the needs of today without harming the chances of future generations to meet their own needs’. For a population to be sustainable, the rate at which the population grows must not threaten the survival of future generatons.

Population policies

Many countries have introduced population policies to influence population growth. China and Kerala (India) have two very different ways of controlling their population.

China’s One Child Policy

During the 1970s the Chinese government realised that the country would be heading for disaster unless population growth was dramatically reduced.

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 and it set out that:

  • women could not marry until they were 20 years old and men 22 years old.
  • couples must apply for permission to marry and to try to have a baby
  • couples could only have one successful pregnancy (and therefore, usually only one child)
  • policy only applied to native (Han) Chinese
  • in rural areas, where sons are essential to work the family land, a second pregnancy was allowed if the first child was a girl, in the hope of having a boy
  • second children born abroad are not penalised, but they are not allowed to become Chinese citizens

Benefits if policy followed Sanctions if policy not followed

Priority housing


Family benefits

Free education for the only child

10% salary decrease

Fine was so large that it bankrupted many households

Family would have to pay for education of both children and for healthcare for all the family

If you didn’t follow the one-child policy the pressure to abort a second pregnancy was immense. The government would even cut the pay of the couple’s co-workers so they would make life unbearable. The ‘Granny Police’ were older women in the community who were entrusted with keeping everyone in line. They checked regularly on couples of childbearing age, even accompanying women on contraception appointments to ensure that they attended.

Did it work?

Essential yes, China’s one-child policy has prevented the births of over 400 million babies and the population is lower than it would have been had the policy not been enforced. Population growth has slowed down enough for all people to have enough food and jobs. Increased technology amd exploitation of resources have raised living standards for many. This is partly due to the one-child policy but also because of technology from other countries.

However, it has created a lot of problems for China as well.

  • Chinese society prefers sons over daughters. Some daughters were placed in orphanages or left to die (female infanticide) in the hope of having a son the second time round.
  • Due to preference for boys, China now has a gender imbalance. By 2020, it is estimated that men in China will outnumber women by 30 million, which might lead to social tension and unrest as more and more men find themselves unable to marry.
  • Little emperors: children have become over indulged by their two parents and four grandparents as they are the only child.
  • The only child will have to support two parents and four grandparents to support. Could lead to an ageing population. They will need supporting financially in their old age which includes an increasing need for expensive healthcare.
  • Many experts believe that China’s growing economy won’t have enough workers to keep expanding whilst also supporting the increasing number of dependents.

The one-child policy is now changing. The policy is mostly still strongly enforced in urban areas whilst in rural areas the policy is relaxed to allow two children if the first child is a daughter. In urban areas couples are often allowed to have two children if they were both only children themselves. The new government installed in 2012 is discussing relaxing the one-child policy further – The Independent.

One family’s experience of the one-child policy

Kerala’s alternative population control

Kerala’s government has taken a very different approach to managing its population growth. It has a population of approximately 32 million and is one of India’s most densely populated states but it has one of the country’s lowest birth rates. Its population growth of 9.8% per decase is less than half of India’s average (21.3% per decade).

India was the first developing nation to launch a national family planning programme as early as 1952. Not only have they encouraged the use of contraception but have included many social changes such as healthcare and education.

Kerala’s success of a variety of strategies:

  • improving education standards and treating girls as equals to boys
  • providing adult literacy classes in towns and villages
  • educating people to understand the benefits of smaller families
  • reducing infant mortality so people no longer need to have so many children
  • improving child health through vaccination programmes
  • providing free contraception and advice
  • encouraging a higher age of marriage
  • allowing maternity leave for the first two babies only
  • providing extra retirement benefits for those who have smaller families
  • following a land reform programme (land redistributed so that no-one was landless, no family was allowed more than 8ha and everyone could be self-sufficient)

Kerala has managed to control its population growth by investing in social changes while still allowing people the freedom to choose their own family size.

Kerala population control – video clip

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