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In my fictional nation, the government has figured out how to provide sufficient nutrition to the entire population indiscriminately. This leaves most citizens time to explore and develop technologies and artisanal crafts. This is similar to what has happened in real life. However, due to the increased life expectancy, there has been an enormous jump in human populations.

This image uses data from the UN Population Division:enter image description here

If I am looking to avoid this scenario, how can I achieve this using hard science?

Background: My fictional nation lives in a mixed temperate grasslands and forests biome on a planet with average wind speeds of 20 mph where they live. Basic food and water are provided for every citizen, but harder-working citizens earn better supplies. Disease is unfeasible since these humans have an immune system similar to bats. I want to create a civilization that has a limited population at all times. This can be in the form of long-living humans or a high death rate. Systemic purging and relocation are not feasible options. I'm looking for biological changes, like something about fertility or decreasing life expectancy. This is not a governmental issue, I purely want to prevent ecological and societal damage from humans over the years on this planet. A stable population is preferable, just at low numbers.

Question: So, what can be done to avoid a growing population in this fictional utopia?

I am completely new to Stack Exchange, so please let me know what I can improve

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. One thing you can fix is the difference between what you are asking in the title and in the body of the question. Population growth and population ageing are two different things. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '20 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Do you want to restrict population growth, or population aging? You need to choose one. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Nov 25 '20 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ @user535733 That's a myth, if I recall correctly. Average life expectancy was low before the twentieth century because of high childhood mortality rates. Anyone who survived to adulthood in pre-modern times could expect a life expectancy not much different that what we see today. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan Nov 25 '20 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ How is this different from the real world? In most developed countries, and in quite a few developing countries, food and health care are provided for every citizen. In most places famines are thing of the past. And yet somehow the population of those countries is not growing. (And the current predictions of the relevant oracles are that the population of the world will stop growing before the end of the century.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 25 '20 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ One point: every utopian novel I've ever read is really a dystopian novel in hiding. Maybe this isn't universally true, but it is in my experience. Having the government deal with the problem in a nasty way would be what I'd expect. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Nov 26 '20 at 9:54

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It will happen automatically, in fact it has already happened in your society. You are worried about nothing.

If you have a civilization with the following features: low mortality, high standard of living, abundant resources, the population stops growing. Evolution actually favors K strategy in these situations, that having few offspring but investing a lot of resources in to them. This is why the populations of most first world countries are stable once you account for immigration. K strategy is having few children and investing a lot of time and effort in those children. r strategy is having many offspring but having to devote less time and energy to each becasue you divide it among a larger number. r strategy works best if child mortality is high, K strategy is much more successful if child mortality is low because the children of K strategist are on average much more desirable mates.

Populations grow primarily during the transition from high mortality to low mortality, which is happening and has happened all over the earth right now. Many countries are transitioning to high standards of living (Here is a great talk about this). the population grows when people are still having children as if most of them will die when most will survive. If your civilization actually has the features you describe its population will be already be stable, just like in real world countries it happened within the first generation or two of mortality reaching the point described.

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    $\begingroup$ More about the transition: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 25 '20 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ Automatically? Only in the short term (a few generations). in the long term, your population will come to be dominated by the (initially rare) weirdos who LOVE, absolutely LOVE to have many children. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Nov 25 '20 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it will happen automatically, eventually. That doesn't mean you have nothing to worry about. Until evolution finds equilibrium, you may face overpopulation, mass death, and a population crash. So if you're perfectly fine with those, then sure I guess you have nothing to worry about. $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Nov 26 '20 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ Also, K strategy is based on evolution, but humans are animals which are not subject to just natural selection: we are quite adept at artificially selecting ourselves. $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Nov 26 '20 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielR.Collins here a refutation of income as a corollary, tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00324728.2020.1810746 and a follow up study showing the faults in Myrskyla's study, and that their trend does not stand up to scrutiny. ideas.repec.org/a/ebl/ecbull/eb-09-00739.html and another breakdown of the studies faults here, monkeysuncle.stanford.edu/?p=415 just becasue something is published does not make it accurate, you have to look at the follow work as well. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 26 '20 at 7:02
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provide sufficient nutrition

But not sufficient space. You've solved the famine issue - great. Now you've got to solve access to health-care, access to living space, and every other problem we struggle with besides getting 3 meals a day.

Japan already don't have enough new births to sustain their population. Competition for jobs is usually blamed. Japan already has one of the highest life expectancies in the world and nationalized health-care. It's an island so space is also at a premium. People just don't want to start a family.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's more accurate to say that people don't think they can afford to start a family. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Nov 27 '20 at 12:05
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Technological solutions (assuming unlimited advanced tech):

Merging persons

Create a technology that smoothly merges multiple persons into one.

At first compatible (i.e. similarly minded and bodied) people are selected. The more population number is, the more chances that some persons would be almost identical.

The super-technology then connects their minds together: initially they are just subtly starting being alike of each other, then start sharing thoughts, ultimately becoming one hive mind.

After that it wouldn't be much of a problem to merge bodies as well to one big. That big body can than be shrunk, selecting better cells and discarding poorer ones. Just trade 10 aging and sick bodies to 3 healthy and rejuvenated ones.

This may solve most of ethical problems by advanced enough tech - population number is going down, yet nobody gets killed and can procreate as much as wants.

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Make it so that people can't get / don't want children.

I'm assuming that your society has a fairly high tech level, at least one close to the late 20th century. The more advanced your civilisation, the easier my suggestions become to implement. The things I'm about to suggest go against what we would concider foundational values of our current day culture(s), so one might question if such a society could be seen as utopian. But utopia is a state relative to your values. A right wingers utopia would look far different from a progressives, and both would seem dystopian to the other. With that out of the way, let's go.

As I said, if people don't want children and can't have them, you avoid overpopulation. The first and most important thing is that your civilisation fundamentally believes that normal people having children is an inherently immoral, even evil thing. There are many legitimate reasons for such a belief. Maybe they consider the conservation of nature to be a fundamental duty of their species, and thus controlling their own population is considered to be the right thing. Think "you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not spread uncontrolled". Another option would be that they believe that parents bringing up children is child abuse. After all, in what way is a mother qualified to care for her child? True, nature gave it to her, but nature also gave her arms and legs and when they are broken, she doesn't "know best herself". No, she goes to see a medical professional. Thus, bringing up children is also the job of professionals.

After we took a look at the cultural requirements, its time to consider the biological ones. I don't see any of the beliefs above developing or remaining in place unless people can't have children for biological reasons. The biological software that evolved to make parents care about, "love", their kids is strong and probably hard to remove. Thus, either everyone is just borne sterile, because the species has been genetically modefied or its members are sterilised after birth.

So how do they actually keep their numbers up? There are many options. One might employ artificial womb technology or use sutabile women as wombs. The children are then put in the kind of environment this society considers optimal to bring up children. Maybe there is rigorous testing for suitable couples or groups bring up children in professional patchwork "families" or the children are brought up by some kind of institution.

The point of it all is that these constraints allow them or even force them to make very conscious choices about their population growth. They can plan ahead, project population requirements for their goals, adjust for the losses along the way and get exactly what they want.

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You could have a stable society where, say, 90% of the population is retired from work. That's only a problem if your economy depends on most people having jobs. But if the proportion of elderly people had been the same for centuries, then of course you wouldn't run your economy that way.

Consider that, medically speaking, there is nothing to stop modern humans having five surviving children per adult, which would lead to catastrophic overpopulation within decades. But we don't need artificial limits or catastrophes to prevent that; if anything, societies with low infant mortality tend to have the opposite problem.

Humans can reason about the future, and humans in industrialised countries can see that having lots of children restricts your (and therefore also your children's) economic and social prospects. This is reinforced by social changes that accompanied falling child mortality. Industrial societies banned child labor, made school compulsory, and did other things to ensure that the burden of each new life falls on the individual parents at least as much as on society as a whole. In fact, by the time women gained more equal rights, it turned out industrial economies had disincentivized having children slightly too much (and continue to do so).

So, if you had a really prosperous socialist society where everyone lived to 300, then you might want to mandate that all children be supported in full-time education until age 30. And a lot more jobs would involve elder care. But as long as it happened gradually enough, there's no obvious reason such a society couldn't be sustainable.

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Enforced birth control: (by government OR by nature)

The answer is right there in your question statement:

provide sufficient nutrition to the entire population indiscriminately.

and

but harder-working citizens earn better supplies

Just put contraceptives in the basic food ration, and for those that qualify include either drug-free food or a counteragent for the drugs.

This is easily done via some form of government control. But as the OP has expressed a desire against this approach, it is still a viable pathway.

The "free basic food ration" is an easily-grown crop that is available for everyone. However, this plant has a natural defense against over-grazing. It does NOT become poisonous exactly, but the more it is stressed (by over grazing/harvesting) the more it excretes a hormone that reduces the fertility of the eaters.

As long as the general population is dependent upon this one specific plant for food, their population density in a given region will adjust to fit the ability of the plant to feed them. Too few, and they are fully fertile and population grows. Too many, and fertility drop, reducing birthrate to below natural death rate thus reducing population.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love your reasoning about the plant regulating the population size. $\endgroup$ – Willeke Nov 28 '20 at 15:38
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Cash bonuses for sterilization:

As a philanthropist, monarch, or governmental agency offer a cash bonus to anyone willing to be sterilized. This has two major advantages over forceful kinds of eugenic acts suggested in other answers:

  1. People are doing this voluntarily so nobody can complain about fairness.
  2. The people who are doing this are reversing the dysgenic trend portrayed in Idiocracy. So instead of smart healthy people waiting for the “right time” to have a single kid while the rest of the world breeds uncontrollably, those who cannot afford to take care of a child (they need the money) are permanently prevented from doing so.
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Scythes.

Essentially, have a government agency (or all-powerful NGO) whose sole job is to kill a certain number of people every year.

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    $\begingroup$ Ha ha, your answer goes soooooo well with your username! Other than that the OP said: "Systemic purging and relocation are not feasible options", so I don't think your answer matches his requirements. $\endgroup$ – Hoki Nov 26 '20 at 10:01
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Fecundity inhibitors

One way to do it biologically would be to make it so that some humans emit a hormone that acts as a fecundity inhibitors when in presence of a lot of other humans. This ability could have emerged with a darwinian process on subsets of the whole human population. People in a certain continent had an overpopulation which caused famine and lack of resources while others developped more slowly because of this ability. This slow evolution allowed for a more efficient use of resources. If it doesn't come from a hormone they produced, it could come from some lifestyle habits that reduce fertility like eating a plant which reduces libido or having asocial behaviors in highly crowded places.

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Free Market Economics.

As presented in Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Ration that amount of children the population as a whole can have without explicitly enforcing limits on any individual.

Because you get good narratives, right off the bat. I mean, if the governments of the world would say, "OK, everybody has the legal right to three-quarters of a child, and so you and your partner have the right to a child and a half when you add them up, and so after you’ve had one child you’ve got a half-credit left, and then you either have to buy another half, or you can sell your half," the soap operas that result from this scenario are fantastic!

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty sure that's putting limits on people. What happens when they violate that law by having more children than they have credits for, after all? $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Nov 27 '20 at 7:12

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