Optimum population

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Depiction of the relationship between population and outcome, focusing on optimum values.svg

The optimum population is a concept where the human population is able to balance maintaining a maximum population size with optimal standards of living for all people.


Excessive growth may reduce output per worker, repress levels of living for the masses and engender strife.

— Confucius 551 – 479 BCE[1]

The concept of an optimum, or ideal, size of population concerns both theory and policy. Theoretically, there is for any given state of the arts and any given supply of available natural resources, together with a given supply of capital instruments and a given social organization, a certain size of population which can operate these resources to the best advantage and produce the largest per capita income of consumers' goods possible under the given conditions.

— Albert B. Wolfe in 1929[2]

Regarding the human population, end-targets for an optimum population include ecological sustainability, economic output,[3] and philosophical or ethical ends-in-themselves.

Some commentators disagree with the concept of "optimum population", believing that the human population will always, in the long-term, be able to adapt to the requirements of a larger population.[4]

Any conception of an optimum population level must lie between a minimum viable population of the human species and the maximum level of population that can be sustained by the carrying capacity of the planet Earth.


Various end-targets are often balanced together in estimating the optimum human population, and different emphasis on different end-targets cause variability among estimates.

The optimal world population has been estimated by a team co-authored by Paul R. Ehrlich.[5] End-targets in this estimation included:

Based on this, the estimation of optimum population in the 1994 study was to around 1.5 billion to 2 billion people.[5][better source needed] Ehrlich reiterated this estimation in an interview for The Guardian in 2018.[6] A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America concluded that, with a fertility-reduction model of one-child per female by 2100, it would take at least 140 years to reduce the population to 2 billion people by 2153.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neurath, Paul (1994). From Malthus to the Club of Rome and back : problems of limits to growth, population control, and migrations. Armonk, NY [u.a.]: Sharpe. p. 6. ISBN 978-1563244070.
  2. ^ Wolfe, A. B. (1929). "The Population Problem Since the World War: A Survey of Literature and Research—Concluded". Journal of Political Economy. 37 (1): 87–120. doi:10.1086/253998. S2CID 222434249.
  3. ^ Dasgupta, P. S. (1969). "On the Concept of Optimum Population". The Review of Economic Studies. 36 (3): 295–318. doi:10.2307/2296429. JSTOR 2296429. PMID 12275700.
  4. ^ Gilpin, Kenneth N. (1998-02-12). "Julian Simon, 65, Optimistic Economist, Dies". B11. The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-18.
  5. ^ a b Daily, Gretchen C.; Ehrlich, Anne H.; Ehrlich, Paul R. (1994). "Optimum Human Population Size". Population and Environment. 15 (6): 469–475. doi:10.1007/BF02211719. S2CID 153761569.
  6. ^ Carrington, Damian (March 22, 2018). "Paul Ehrlich: 'Collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades'". The Guardian. Retrieved September 12, 2021.
  7. ^ Bradshaw, Corey J. A.; Brook, Barry W. (2014). "Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems". PNAS. 111 (46): 16610–16615. Bibcode:2014PNAS..11116610B. doi:10.1073/pnas.1410465111. PMC 4246304. PMID 25349398.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)

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