What Will Global Population Decline Mean For Cities?

In 1798, 32-year-old English cleric Thomas Malthus described a common phenomenon: The population of a successful nation would increase until food systems couldn’t keep up.

Time-saving innovation was used to make more new people, rather than improving quality of life for existing people. War or famine would inevitably follow, he wrote. Malthus correctly described much of recorded history. Ironically though, just as he was writing, the first few rich nations were escaping this “Malthusian trap” with the rapid improvement in food production efficiency. For the next two centuries, successive waves of countries beat the trap, and saw their populations soar.

In 1800, about a billion people lived in the world, growing meagerly, if consistently, by about 0.04% for the previous 10,000 years. Today, more than 8 billion people are alive, surging at a peak of 2.2% per year in the 1960s. It was an earth-shaking two-century-long period. Now it’s all over, as documented in the 2019 book by demographer Paul Morland called “The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World.”