Home > Hot Topics > More Topics > Sustainability > Thinking About 1 Billion

Thinking About 1 Billion


Last year, demographer Arthur C. Nelson predicted that the population of the United States would hit 1 billion sometime in the years 2100-2120. At least one NumbersUSA member wrote a letter to the editor of her local paper about the prediction. And at least one NumbersUSA member has said in the comments to our blogs that we should start thinking about 1 billion.

The way I think about it is, could the U.S. population hit 1 billion by the year 2109, 100 years from now? Our population is currently 307 million. Reaching 1 billion in 2109 would be a bit more than tripling our population in 100 years. That is easy to imagine since U.S. population more than tripled from 1900 to 2000 even with 40 years of greatly reduced immigration between approximately 1924-1965. The U.S. population was more than 78 million in the year 1900. Tripling that would give us 235 million. Yet the population was 281 million in the year 2000. Not only did the population triple, but we added an extra 46 million on top of that- more than ½ again of our population in 1900. If our population were to grow from 2009-2109 the way it did from 1900-2000, our population would be approximately 1.2 billion in 2109. There is historical precedent for what Dr. Nelson predicts.

Based on phone and e-mail interviews with Dr. Nelson, I’ve tried to evaluate whether his 1 billion estimate is realistic. He directed me to the Census Bureau’s population estimates based on the 1990 census. These estimates were published in the year 2000; it appears that the Census Bureau is not currently making 100 year estimates.

The Census Bureau’s high-end estimate was for 1 billion people by the year 2089 - even sooner than Dr. Nelson predicts. My understanding is that Dr. Nelson started with the Census Bureau’s middle level estimate of 570 million people by the year 2100 and made the following adjustments:

  • Increase life expectancy by 20 years over the next century.
  • Increase the fertility rate from 2.1 children per woman to 2.2

I then had some discussions with another Ph.D. demographer who is at a respected, non-partisan organization. The other demographer said that those assumptions were reasonable.

It's hard to say whether the life expectancy estimate is right or wrong. Some people say that scientific advances and lifestyle changes will enable us to live longer. Other people say we are already approaching the limits of human longevity.

Why would the fertility rate increase? Possibly both through change in the behavior of the native born, and through immigration of high fertility females. The United States dropped below replacement level fertility in 1972. Now there is a study, covered in the Washington Post, that the birth rate of Americans is increasing. "My best guess is that ... Women have more education, and because they have more education and skills they probably find it easier to take a year off and have a baby and pay for the additional costs, and then get back into the labor force," a Stanford University professor was quoted as saying.

But it seems to me that the professor's "best guess" is just a story being told to explain the data point. The article is ignoring the obvious source of an increased birth rate: the United States has had immigration of about 1.5 million people per year, mostly from nations where women have a lot of children. Over time we have developed a stock of tens of millions of people with a fertility rate. This population segment then affects the national fertility rate. For example, if you have a population of 10 females, all of whom will have 2 children, your fertility rate is 2. If you then add just 1 immigrant female who will have 4 children, your fertility rate jumps to 2.18. That situation of 1 immigrant female to 10 native-stock females implies a 9% immigrant population. Today the U.S. is composed of about 15% immigrants.

Fertility Rates

Whatever the source of the increased birth rate, it is something we are going to have to reckon with if we want to avoid having 1 billion Americans by the year 2109.

The U.S. importation of high fertility immigrants will probably persist, unless organizations such as NumbersUSA can dampen it. The Census Bureau projects that high immigration rates will continue, with the total yearly number of immigrants increasing to 2 million by the year 2048. To verify that, click here, and then look at the Table 1 Excel file, column H. That gives us the current trend. Why is that trend highly probable to become reality unless people resist it? Because many wealthy interests in society want increased population and cheap labor. The home builders, infrastructure builders, and car companies want more people. More people will need homes, roads, hospitals, electrical power, automobiles, and so on. Industries such as meatpacking, construction, garment manufacturing, and health care want more immigrants for the cheap labor. A large and continuing supply of low-cost, pliant workers enables them to pay their workers less and thereby return more money to the owners (shareholders), and executives of the company. Major parts of our system are pushing for more population.

What would be wrong with having 1 billion people living in the United States? Our ecological footprint was 2 acres per person in the year 1900. It had ballooned to 11 acres per person in 1995 - a multiple of 5.5. Since population has more than tripled, the impact of the United States upon the Earth is more than 16.5 times what it was in the year 1900. In order to hold our ecological footprint constant in the year 2109, Americans will have to decrease their ecological footprint by a factor of 3. This is contrary to the entire direction of our civilization, which is to increase consumption. We have avoided the famines and scarcity that people such as Paul Ehrlich predicted, but we have done so by appropriating more and more of our planet towards human consumption.

CHARLES BREITERMAN is an attorney and writer/researcher for NumbersUSA

NumbersUSA's blogs are copyrighted and may be republished or reposted only if they are copied in their entirety, including this paragraph, and provide proper credit to NumbersUSA. NumbersUSA bears no responsibility for where our blogs may be republished or reposted.

Views and opinions expressed in blogs on this website are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect official policies of NumbersUSA.