With seven billion people comes economic opportunity

An elderly woman strolls down a shopping precinct in Tokyo on October 28, 2011.

Steve Chiotakis: Seven billion people: that's how many people reside on Earth as of today, according to the United Nations.

Marketplace sustainability reporter Eve Troeh is with us live in our Los Angeles studio to talk about how population growth affects a country's economy. Good morning Eve.

Eve Troeh: Good morning.

Chiotakis: So, seven billion folks raises some scary questions -- about having enough food or water, that kind of thing, right?

Troeh: Definitely, and we'll hear a lot about that today I imagine -- environmental impact, and risk. But, you know, there can be a positive to this.

So what image comes to mind when you think of this story, Steve?

Chiotakis: Um... a lot of little tykes being born.

Troeh: Yes. Babies, babies, little ones -- whatever you want to call them. Growth means young people.

And if you're a fast-growing country -- like China or India -- you have a lot of babies to take care of. That means you have to educate them, provide them with health care. And if you invest in them, you get a big, smart, healthy workforce.

If you can't afford to do that, or you don't do it, those young people grow up to be a burden, not an asset.

That's how Geoff Dabelko at the Woodrow Wilson Center put it to me.

Geoff Dabelko: With high population growth rates, it makes the challenge of achieving economic growth all that much more difficult.

But on the flipside -- no babies is a problem, too.

Dabelko: In Western Europe or Japan, they're experiencing negative population growth. Where are you going to find the labor to run the economy and support the older generations?

Chiotakis: All right, Eve Troeh -- so how does the U.S. stack up?

Troeh: Well it's interesting, because our natural growth rate is pretty much at what's called the replacement rate: two kids per female. Flat.

But because we have immigration, we're growing at a pretty fast rate for a developed country. Our overall population growth rate is 0.8 percent.

Chiotakis: Marketplace's Eve Troeh, on this seven billion day -- Eve, thanks.

Troeh: Yes, thanks.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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