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The world population has quadrupled in just the past 100 years, from under 2 billion people in 1923 to nearly 8 billion today . This same period saw vast economic growth and scientific advances—including improved healthcare—which increased life expectancy and decreased infant mortality rates across the world . These positive outcomes, however, have contributed to a growing human population that has strained the earth’s natural resources, contributed to conflict in some parts of the world, and led to increased pollution and habitat destruction [3,4].
More recently the rate of the world’s population growth has slowed, partially due to economic factors like the cost of childcare, and social factors like women choosing to start having children later . In fact, several countries across Europe and Asia are beginning to see population decline. Recently, the world’s second most populous country, China, reported its first year of population decline since the Great Chinese Famine in the 1960s . Many experts predict that other countries will soon follow a similar trend and that the global population could begin to decline within the next one hundred years.
Just as population growth led to both positive and negative impacts, so could a decline in population. For example, the possibility of reduced stress on the earth’s environment would be a welcomed outcome, while the potential economic challenges of supporting an aging population without a young workforce is a concern . Your task is to use mathematical modeling to better understand the potential issues surrounding a possible decline in the global population.
Q1. Boom…or bust? Create a model that predicts the global population as far as you can into the future. Quantify your level of confidence in your predictions. You may wish to incorporate into your model data on historical changes in the world population, as well as trends in global fertility and mortality rates. Such data is widely available online.
Q2. Change is good…or bad? Create a model that quantifies potential impacts of global population change. Include at least one positive impact and one negative impact. You may consider some of the impacts discussed above, or other possible impacts.
Q3. Act fast…or not at all? CountriesCountries regularly enact policies that have the potential to impact population growth and/or decline. For example, politicians in both the U.K. and U.S. are considering measures to reduce the cost of raising children [7,8], which could increase population growth rates. Develop a model or models to make informed recommendations about how, when, and if leaders should respond to the possible onset of human population decline.
Problem Author: former M3 Challenge participant Dr. Christopher Musco, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, New York University
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