“So which is it: Is it too many people or is it too few people?” asks Joel E. Cohen
of the Rockefeller University in this interview with ECSP. “The truth is, both are real problems, and the fortunate thing is that we have enough information to do much better in addressing both of those problems than we are doing – we may not have silver bullets, but we’re not using the knowledge we have.”
Cohen has studied the population-resources equation, trying to determine how best to support global demographics in a sustainable, equitable way. He points to the cross-cutting power of education to both curb rapid population growth in the developing world and ease the cost of aging populations in the developed.
“On continuing rapid population growth, we know that more education is associated with reductions in fertility,” said Cohen. And when combined with voluntary family planning, it’s also cheap “compared to the costs of having children that are not well cared for – the opportunity costs,” he said.
On aging, “we know that people who are educated well in their youth – both at primary, secondary, and especially tertiary levels – have better health in old age,” said Cohen. “So the costs of an aging population are diminished when people are educated. They take better care of themselves and they have options – they can use their minds as their bodies mature.”
Education is a long-term solution, but shorter-term policy options, like France’s bump of the retirement age to 62 that prompted rioting this fall, will also be necessary. “Sixty-two is only a way station,” Cohen said. “The retirement age has to move up, because people are living longer, they’re more productive, they’re in better health, and they’re going to have to keep working to take care of themselves.”