For half a century, statisticians, pundits, and politicians have warned that a burgeoning planetary population will soon overwhelm the earth's resources. But a growing number of experts are sounding a different kind of alarm. Rather than growing exponentially, they argue, the global population is headed for a steep decline.
Throughout history, depopulation was the product of catastrophe: ice ages, plagues, the collapse of civilizations. This time, however, we're thinning ourselves deliberately, by choosing to have fewer babies than we need to replace ourselves. In much of the developed and developing world, that decline is already underway, as urbanization, women's empowerment, and waning religiosity lead to smaller and smaller families. In Empty Planet, Ibbitson and Bricker travel from South Florida to Sao Paulo, Seoul to Nairobi, Brussels to Delhi to Beijing, drawing on a wealth of research and firsthand reporting to illustrate the dramatic consequences of this population decline – and to show us why the rest of the developing world will soon join in.
They find that a smaller global population will bring with it a number of benefits: fewer workers will command higher wages; good jobs will prompt innovation; the environment will improve; the risk of famine will wane; and falling birthrates in the developing world will bring greater affluence and autonomy for women. But enormous disruption lies ahead, too. We can already see the effects in Europe and parts of Asia, as aging populations and worker shortages weaken the economy and impose crippling demands on healthcare and social security. The United States is well-positioned to successfully navigate these coming demographic shifts – that is, unless growing isolationism and anti-immigrant backlash lead us to close ourselves off just as openness becomes more critical to our survival than ever before.
Rigorously researched and deeply compelling, Empty Planet offers a vision of a future that we can no longer prevent – but one that we can shape, if we choose.
Darrell Bricker is Chief Executive Officer of Ipsos Public Affairs, a leading international pollster. John Ibbitson is Writer at Large for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper. Successful authors on their own, their first collaboration was on The Big Shift, a study of change in Canadian politics that became a number-one national bestseller.
"A gripping narrative of a world on the cusp of profound change"
– Anjana Ahuja, New Statesman
"Arresting [...] lucid, trenchant and very readable, the authors' arguments upend consensus ideas about everything from the environment to immigration; the result is a stimulating challenge to conventional wisdom."
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Warnings of catastrophic world overpopulation have filled the media since the 1960s, so this expert, well-researched explanation that it's not happening will surprise many readers [...] delightfully stimulating."
– Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Thanks to the authors' painstaking fact-finding and cogent analysis, [Empty Planet] offers ample and persuasive arguments for a re-evaluation of conventional wisdom."
"The 'everything you know is wrong' genre has become tedious, but this book is riveting and vitally important. With eye-opening data and lively writing, Bricker and Ibbitson show that the world is radically changing in a way that few people appreciate."
– Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now
"[Bricker and Ibbitson] have written a sparkling and enlightening guide to the contemporary world of fertility as small family sizes and plunging rates of child-bearing go global."
– Paul Morland, Globe and Mail
"Bricker and Ibbitson work their way around the globe in pacey, sometimes breathless journalistic prose, although their argument is refreshingly clear and well balanced [...]"
– Robert Mayhew, Literary Review
"The authors combine a mastery of social-science research with enough journalistic flair to convince fair-minded readers of a simple fact: fertility is falling faster than most experts can readily explain, driven by persistent forces [...] Empty Planet succeeds as a long-overdue skewering of population-explosion fearmongers"
– Lyman Stone, Wall Street Journal
"While the global population is swelling today, birth rates have nonetheless already begun dropping around the world. Past population declines have been driven by natural disasters or disease – the Toba supervolcano, Black Death or Spanish Flu – but this coming slump will be of our own making. In this fascinating and thought-provoking book, Bricker and Ibbitson compellingly argue why by the end of this century the problem won't be overpopulation but a rapidly shrinking global populace, and how we might have to adapt."
– Lewis Dartnell, Professor of Science Communication, University of Westminster, and author of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch
"To get the future right we must challenge our assumptions, and the biggest assumption so many of us make is that populations will keep growing. Bricker and Ibbitson deliver a mind-opening challenge that should be taken seriously by anyone who cares about the long-term future – which, I hope, is all of us."
– Dan Gardner, author of Risk and co-author of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
"A highly readable, controversial insight into a world rarely thought about – a world of depopulation under ubiquitous urbanization."
– George Magnus, author of The Age of Aging and Red Flags: Why Xi's China is in Jeopardy