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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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WALTHAM, Mass. —The question of world population is brought before me again by a special report from the Whaley-Eaton Service on population growth. Calling this the problem of the century, the report starts with the statement: 'Global economic expansion is no longer able to cope with the excessive rate of gain in the world population. The ultimate solution must come from control, voluntary or otherwise, especially in the poorer lands."

In a country like the United States, technology is now so far advanced that one farmer grows enough food and fibre for 26 other persons. It is estimated that U. S. agricultural production has tripled since 1940 and has doubled since 1950. Yet while this is true of highly developed countries such as those in the West, two-thirds of the world's people are still either constantly hungry or at best badly underfed; and in the areas where production is poorest the population grows at the fastest pace.

This is being brought to the attention of the people of the West because communications and transportation between countries is increasing in speed and volume. One of the first things the West exports to underdeveloped countries is a knowledge of hygeine; and this, as medical care develops, increases the life span of the people. Hence the excessive birthrate, instead of being the safeguard against an excessive death rate, becomes a menace as the death rate is diminished.

It is true that prosperity in the industrialized countries of the world has stimulated a faster pace of population growth. But here the increase is supportable because in general these are food surplus countries which have high levels of literacy, so that if population control becomes necessary it is possible to communicate the need to the people and to rely on their ability to understand the methods to be used. But in the poorer countries of the world where food is scarce—as in Latin America, Africa and Asia—there is a very low level of literacy, and even if they were supplied with the needed information to control the birthrate they could not properly utilize it.

At the current pace, the world's population of 3 billion will double within another 40 years. This means increasing hunger and malnutrition for much of the world in spite of such well-meaning assistance as American world food gifts. Millions of dollars that we pour into the development of other countries could be substantially reduced, of course, if something could be done to improve the ability of these countries to grow their own food. As it is, we have to curtail agricultural production in the U. S. as a way of keeping our own prices at a stable level, and to give away or sell a certain amount at a lower price in other parts of the world. We put many government dollars that come from the pockets of the people as a whole to support our farm over-production. If we could put the same money into development in other countries of the means by which people could feed themselves, it would in the end cost us far less at home and certainly far less abroad.

But this is only one phase of world development. We must not lose sight of the fact that, while we talk of agriculture as the basic problem in most countries, there will still be many other problems even when we succeed in meeting this one. Crop failures in both China and Russia are far more frequent than they are in the West, and for those countries this means only one thing—death from starvation. Khrushchev has made many efforts to raise farm production in the Soviet Union, but for some reason he does not succeed. We may guess that perhaps the Communist theory does not meet the needs of those engaged in agriculture, which seems to be a peculiarly individualistic enterprise. Somehow a farmer has a deep tie to his own land, and when it is his own he seems to have much more incentive to work than when working on a collectivist basis.

India and the Far East have made great efforts to use their agricultural resources better. But India seems to have an almost insoluble problem with its population doubling every 25 years. Though they have increased their food production, it does not keep up with the rate of population growth; and in spite of efforts to raise the standard of living, it remains the same.

Unless in the near future we discover other areas that can be settled, I am afraid we are going to have to face this population question much more realistically and rapidly than we have been doing.


(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Waltham (Mass., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, February 5, 1962

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.