Agricultural Economics Department


Date of this Version


Document Type



Cornhusker Economics, June 7, 2023


Copyright © 2023 University of Nebraska-Lincoln


In 1968, Paul Ehrlich published a book entitled The Population Bomb in which he argued that rapid population growth would overwhelm the world’s capacity to feed, house, and otherwise care for the coming millions of people. At that time, the world population was about 3.5 billion growing at an average annual rate of 2.06 percent (World Bank 2023). At that rate of growth, the world’s population would have been expected to double to 7.0 billion by 2001. In fact, population growth rates fell after the 1960s and world population reached only 6.2 billion in that year. Fears of a population explosion were not confined to the United States and its allies. China with the world’s largest population of 774.5 million (21.9 percent of the world total) and an annual population growth rate of 2.76 percent in 1970 launched a family planning campaign that resulted in a significant decline in fertility rates during the 1970s (Zhang 2017, Table 1). In 1979, the Chinese government initiated an even more aggressive policy to control the size of its population, limiting families to only one child. The “one-child” policy remained in place until 2015 when couples were allowed to have two children with this limit raised to three in 2021 (Goldman 2021).