In a provocative opinion piece in the New York Times, Dean Spears makes the case for worldwide human population to peak at about 10 billion people toward the end of this century. Based on current birthrates, this peak will be followed by a steep decline in population over the next two centuries. Spears argues that a world in which the old outnumber the young will likely lead to policies that promote inequality and nationalism. The op-ed is a call to begin a conversation to ensure that demographic changes are managed in a way to “preserve freedom, share burdens, advance gender equity, value care work and avoid disasters when governments try to impose their will on reproduction.”
Archaeology has a lot to contribute to this conversation. Understanding the likely social impacts of population decline over long periods of time is best analyzed through comparative research on past societies that have gone through similar population changes. The CfAS community would do well to heed Spears call for a reasoned, evidenced-based discussion of the topic.