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In my world, there rules a wise government that maintains an Utopia that was created centuries ago. This Utopia was founded by elders that left earth because they felt Earth decayed through wars, famine and - first and foremost - overpopulation.

Hence those elders and their successors introduced policies in their distant Utopia to prevent all the root causes for earths deterioration.

To me, it is however unclear how to keep overpopulation at bay. The goal of the government is to keep the number of inhabitants equal in the long run but which ratio of newborns is needed for not exceeding the population cap taking natural cases of death into account?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to give a full answer but how about neutering part of the population $\endgroup$ – Mendeleev Jul 25 '17 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ Please specify tech level of your utopia. I would not call contemporary first world countries as utopia, but already they tend to have negative population growth. (which may cause problems on its own) In demographics (for contemporary tech) is usually assumed that for stability 2.1 kids per woman are needed. $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Jul 25 '17 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ Watch this TED talk by Hans Rosling about the factors that slow down real-world population growth. ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_on_global_population_growth/… $\endgroup$ – LilGames Jul 25 '17 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ How strict can the policies be? How perfect can they be enforced? The word utopia seems to suggest their systems will be a lot different with ours. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 25 '17 at 21:55

19 Answers 19

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Make a childless life more attractive and having children more expensive.

Empower women

Give women careers that reward staying in the work force (with no breaks) longer. If you can stop births before women are 30-35 you will significantly cut the chance of population growth.

Tax on children

Children should be expensive, perhaps one is tax free, but thereafter there is a fixed fee and a monthly tax per child (obviously this is to pay for school and increased strain on public services that children require). Clearly child benefits should not be available.

Propaganda

Advertise the benefits of a Child free twenties/ thirties. Give TV ad time to adverts promoting a healthy, childless youth (under 35).

Propaganda can work wonders for promoting health and de-stigmatising people to issues like abortion, "pragmatic" family planning should be pushed, free and with easy access to the whole population.

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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus thanks, is there a problem with the answer? $\endgroup$ – User632716 Jul 25 '17 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @User632716 I don't believe there's anything wrong with your answer, that's just Secespitus' standard greeting for newcomers to WorldBuilding. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jul 25 '17 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ No, I don't see any problems. Your post was in the review queue for First Posts and I like to point people to the most important resources of the site when they are new, even if they have the association bonus. If I saw a problem with your post I would probably have written something like "Welcome! You state that [x], but [stuff]. Please take the tour and [...]". Did my comment come across different? English is not my first language so maybe I need to adjust my "standard" comment. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jul 25 '17 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus cool, thought I'd check, cheers for the warm welcome $\endgroup$ – User632716 Jul 25 '17 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Be very careful there's not a widespread preference for a single gender before you disincentive having multiple children! Especially if abortion is seen as socially acceptable, you could end up with a major gender imbalance, which causes all sorts of problems. $\endgroup$ – Kat Jul 25 '17 at 21:27
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Just look at reality

If you have educated women and a good healthcare system such that kids make it to adulthood in one piece by and large, you won't need to worry much about overpopulation -- individual family planning will take care of that for you, as it does IRL. If worse comes to worse, you have family planning consultants who will help prospective couples strategize.

If you doubt me on this, look at the birthrates in the US, Japan, and most of Western Europe.

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    $\begingroup$ @BruderLustig: The population of the U.S.A. is growing through immigration. The population of Japan is exhibiting, how to put it, negative growth. Western Europe as a whole is essentially stagnating (population growth 0.25% per year), because at present immigration just about matches natural decline. The entire world is forecasted to enter population stagnation and eventually a slow decline sometime in the second half of this very century of ours. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 25 '17 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Please show viable evidence for your claims. $\endgroup$ – Bruder Lustig Jul 25 '17 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ @BruderLustig: List of European countries by population growth rate; the E.U. as a whole is at 0.25% p.a. Demography of Japan; population growth has been negative since 2015. The population of the U.S.A. grows by about 0.77% p.a., or some 2.5 million people; immigration to the U.S.A. is at least 1 million people per year, about half of the (already small) growth. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 25 '17 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ Education and healthcare, by themselves, have nothing to do with need/desire to have children. Real push is cost/value of the child. All these quantities are loosely (in our western world) linked to average income, so they look correlated even if they are not. Links are quite complex and the first attempt to understand them is in "Limits of Growth"(1972). I cannot expound here, but bottom line is: poor people will make as many children as possible, middle-class will want very few (usually one) while reasonably wealthy people will want more (4+). This regardless of healthcare or education. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jul 25 '17 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Ziobyte that seems hard to believe. Women with access to cheap and reliable birth control (healthcare) and the knowledge to use it properly (education) are able to wait to have kids until they want them. That, if nothing else, makes a huge impact. $\endgroup$ – Kat Jul 25 '17 at 21:21
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A two child/family cap will lead to a slow decline due to accidental life losses before spawning allowed children.

Exact amount of correction needed is highly dependent on lifestyle (e.g.: a society with high percentage of base-jumpers will need a significantly higher "correction").

You can avoid a fixed amount by setting yearly a lottery with (right to start "building") a newborn child as prize; the amount is the dead-minus-born of previous year.

Real problem, in our world is to enforce such limits; all attempts to date failed in a few years (India and China come to mind, but they are not alone). This is not a problem in your case because the "elders" solved it long ago ;)

Other schema are possible, such as one child only "by birthright" and one more can be gained by "special feats", sport competitions, money or whatever else; keep the lottery to "even-out" the total. Specifics are dependent on your world.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the lottery system. Using that system, you can add or subtract as needed. $\endgroup$ – curt1893 Jul 25 '17 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ Sound like something straight out of George Orwell's worst nightmares. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Jul 25 '17 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @RedactedRedacted: All Utopias do, at least to someone. I'm happy I'm still living in a world where Chaos is in charge (in spite of all drawbacks), but the question clearly stated the framework. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jul 25 '17 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ Something important not mentioned here would be Twins and beyond. Most likely, it would probably be just a forgiven thing, perhaps a reduction in the next years lottery size, but it could be a forced selective reduction surgery to abort one or more of them should the limits be hit. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Jul 25 '17 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ In the silo series, they implanted a birth control device into all females at birth (or very early), and there was a lottery to get it removed. Twins were fine, but accidental pregnancies due to implant failure had to be aborted. I think you could let both slide if your implant failure rate is very low, though. Forced abortions for twins or implant failures seems unnecessarily cruel. $\endgroup$ – Kat Jul 25 '17 at 21:36
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It depends on what your government is willing to do to maintain population. For instance, if you don't care what the people think / government has absolute power, you could simply kill off people when you're above your cap. However, I get the feeling that this approach isn't what you're going for, so I'll provide a couple other options.

Sex ed

Educating people about the dangers of unprotected sex and providing contraceptives is a very good way of reducing unwanted pregnancies, allowing all children born to have been planned for. While not significantly reducing the danger of overpopulation, this policy makes population growth/decline/stagnation more predictable and manageable by your government.

Advance society

Shalvenay touched on this, but advanced societies tend to have lower birthrates, mainly as children have stopped being necessities (for subsistence farming) and have become something more of a burden on parents. After all, it used to be that children helped produce food and clothes, but now parents have to provide that for them. Children are also an enormous time commitment, so for the most part only people who want children, knowing fully their responsibilities, have children. To increase this effect in your society, your government could sponsor efforts to develop underdeveloped parts of the world, if any exist. Once your planet is sufficiently developed, you could maximize the time commitment of children by making daycares illegal, possibly under the premise of helping children by having their parents be the ones who raise them.

However

Even with both of these options in place, your population will still grow. Just look at the US, one of the most developed countries in the world, where the birthrate is still significantly higher than the death rate. Unless every person in society is willing to limit the number of children they have, you're going to need to take extra steps. If you want to truly and reliably stagnate populations, your government is probably going to have to become morally questionable.

Forced infertility

You could develop medicine that babies are given at birth to render them infertile, and only with a government permit could they be provided with a drug to stimulate their reproductive systems again. The downside of this approach would be the immense resources required to manage these permits and the possibility of wealth becoming a factor in securing one.

Brave New World-esque factories

If you've ever read Brave New World, you'll be familiar with this suggestion. If your society is advanced enough, you could produce children in artificial wombs, making entire factories for children. This would give the government complete control on population growth with comparatively fewer resources.

Overall

If you use any of these options, your government is going to need to do a couple things to ensure their success. Firstly, census taking will have to change. Reliable death counts and birth rates will need to be calculated more than every ten years, probably at least yearly. Computerized birth and death certificates that automatically add to a counter is one option that comes to mind. Secondly, the government will have to take complete control of the world, if they haven't already. People cannot be allowed to have the freedom to have children if you seek to manually curb population growth. However, there is one final option your wise government can take if it does not wish to pursue the above methods.

Nothing

If your government remains in power forever, it is safe to say that if they wait long enough, the population will grow faster and faster, until food cannot be produced fast enough. This will cause mass starvation and the population will drop significantly and then grow to a sustainable level. Unfortunately, on Earth a "sustainable level" will mean that nearly every aspect of the environment becomes artificially controlled to produce just barely enough food for the now stagnant population. Foods that are efficient to farm/grow like corn, potatoes, and fish will begin to dominate markets, and many species useless to humans will die out.

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    $\begingroup$ The population of the USA grows due to immigration. It's not due to birth rates. $\endgroup$ – Kat Jul 25 '17 at 21:38
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A la, Enders Game, families could face significant disincentives or even punishment if they have more than two children.

Some families may still do so but they would be a vast minority; this small number of extra kids would, to some degree, balance out "accidental loss before spawning" issue ZioByte mentions.

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Education

In our modern culture education seems to be leading to declining population. There is a lot of speculation as to why this is (women having careers, knowing that two children is better for the enviroment, etc) but the statistics support it. Look at Italy, Japan, or many other nations. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_decline

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Introduce a drug that extends lifespans indefinitely, but has the side effect of sterility.

No deaths; no births = stable population.

(incidentally, this concept was used in an episode of Stargate, where an alien race gave something like this to Earth. It didn't end well)

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No procreation. New persons obtained as needed off the shelf.

When these elders made their migration from an overpopulated Earth, probably a lot of people wanted to go with. Perhaps all pioneer / refugees were stored cryogenically for the trip.

Suppose that at the new site they decided that the site could only support a population of X. But in the ship they have 1000X persons.

The answer: thaw persons from the cryoship to make your population of pioneers, and then thaw more to replace them as they age and die. There are no children born on planet. Maybe they can't be (everyone is sterile, or all children are mutants). Maybe they are prohibited. Maybe all the pioneers were one gender.

In any case this approach makes for some interesting stuff storywise: for example, the culture of the group would in many ways be parked where it was when the ship left, because new people are not born into the culture. Replacement adults are the same generation as the people they replace- p eople who are newly thawed would be getting up to speed in a new land with people who were their peers hours before but now are older and more experienced. . Why are some people thawed and others left frozen? Do people ever get put back in the freezer?

It would also be interesting to learn what happens when they get down to the last few persons on the cryoship.

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Make children making decisions the job of the society rather than the individual parents.

When I was in Australia, I took a tour of the Outback. One of the stories that was told to me is that aboriginal couples would not have a child until the elders come to the conclusion that there is enough food available to support that additional mouth to feed.

Whether you believe the aborigines had sufficient conscious control over a couple's behavior for this story to be true or not, the key to stagnation without having to kill people is to control the birth rate. Maybe the aborigines were different enough from us culturally that they could accomplish this goal. Any society which can approach becoming a utopia will certainly be different enough.

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Easy: taxes.

This is something easily adjustable that the government can change to respond to the latest population figures. If the population is getting too high, increase taxes on children. If the population is getting too low, provide tax rebates when you have kids.

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Your Utopia will have a problem with underpopulation not overpopulation

A stable population requires that birth rate equal death rate over the long term. That is, if, on average, 1% of the population die each year then 1% must be born to replace them. This does not have to match year on year but it does have to match over the longer term.

To achieve this the total fertility rate, the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime needs to equal the replacement rate. Naively, the replacement fertility rate is 2.0 - that is, each woman must on average give birth to 2 infants - a boy and a girl. In reality (even in Utopias) the rate needs to be above 2.0 because slightly more boys than girls are born (your Utopia may deal with this) and not all girls will reproduce by choice or circumstance (death, infertility etc.). In the real world, the replacement rate depends on how good the life expectancy of (particularly) girls is - for the UK the replacement rate is about 2.075, for developing counties with poor prospects of surviving to and through your fertile years the replacement rate can be as high as 2.5-3.3. For the world as a whole the rate was 2.33 in 2003.

Pre-agriculture the number of humans was between 1 and 15 million. Post the development of agriculture this rose to approximately 500 million and became much less stable - agricultural societies are much more prone to population collapse due mainly to epidemics than hunter gatherer societies. Various plagues have eliminated 50% or more of a population within a few years.

Population stability (such as it was) was a result of incredibly high birth rates matched by equally high death rates and huge fertility rates among those woman who survived long enough to bear children. Indeed, it was not unrealistic to say that if a girl survived to bear children she would probably die bearing children - maternal mortality rates being hideously high and birth control methods being both ineffective, unwanted and/or culturally prohibited.

What has given the world a population that is now measured in the billions was the industrial and agricultural revolutions which lowered the death rates to an extraordinary degree, primarily by reducing infant and childhood mortality. Those girls who did not die as children went on to have babies at the same rate as everyone else leading to explosive population growth.

People had children as a form of social security: they would look after you in your old age. Of course, because children died a lot, you needed to have a lot of them to ensure some of them made it to adulthood. However, the twin revolutions not only decreased the death rate, they changed the economics of having children. Since you could now expect most of your children to survive (rather than expecting most of them to die) over time, people had less children - the birth rate falling to match the new, lower death rate. This creates the Demographic Transition.

Demographic Transition overview

Max Roser - Email from author, author of website http://ourworldindata.org/data/population-growth-vital-statistics/world-population-growth - Demographic Transition overview - CC BY-SA 4.0

The demographic transition and the fact that humans live for many decades explains why a population can continue to increase even though the fertility rate now is below replacement rates. A "baby boom" (like the one in the twenty years following the Second World War) takes many decades to work its way through a population. Best estimates are that the world population will peak at around 9 billion in the second half of this century and then begin to decline.

Fertility Rates, Birth Rates and Death rates have all fallen massively over the last 55 years. However, this has been accompanied by a massive increase in population because the world, as a whole albeit at different rates is going through a Demographic Transition. The OECD countries have largely completed theirs as has China, most Asian and South American countries are somewhere in the middle and most African countries are only just starting. These are closely correlated with wealth as measured by per-capita GDP. Indeed, all OECD countries now have fertility rates considerably less than replacement value - any population growth they experience now is a result of the lag in the post-war baby boom and net immigration.

The problem your Utopian founders have to deal with is encouraging childbirth, not restricting it.

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If you have a 50% male/50% female population, birth rate must be slightly above 2/women to have a stable population if there is no immigration or other significant factor to take into account (major disasters killing lots of people, for example).

Dystopian options hereunder

As discussed, enforcing this policy can be a challenge. If you want a dystopian touch, imagine adding substances preventing becoming pregnant in water supply. Or have strong law enforcement (à la Judge Dredd) so that executions compensate population growth. Or simply let people reproduce like they want and release some diseases to go back to the good figures. This can allow you to target part of the population as well.

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Nobody has even mentioned birth control for some reason. It should be easy for people who set up utopias to control population through birth control.

A simple system would just make it so the government gets to decide if any individual can have any children. Everyone else must be on birth control.

If the government wants to be forceful, they can just give all males a vasectomy after puberty and make it so all births are artificially inseminated.

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Having left Earth already we can assume your society is technologically advanced. The elders could have implanted birth control in all colonists and their offspring, enabling them control over the society's reproduction rates. People can get it on all they like but unless the ruling body has OK'ed conception, they won't have another child. Circumventing the control mechanism could be monitored or made highly problematic by the level of technology you want to use.

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All you have to do is keep families from having more than 2 kids. It doesn't matter what method you choose, say taxes, birth control, forced termination of children, etc. As long as the population has a fertility rate lower than 2.1, it will not grow. If the need for a population boost ever arises, than lift the ban on the number of children for a short period of time.

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In "Demolition Man" society had been changed such that intercourse ("fluid transfer") was 'icky' (and dangerous due to fatal STDs). Children were created using the eggs and sperm of parents in the lab. The eggs and sperm were screened for genetic problems. The embryo was matured in an incubator thus the population could be easily kept in check via 'cultural norms'.

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Government control of all food.

Without sufficient food an additional child cannot be kept alive. If every person goes to a government controlled distribution point every time they need food, the government has precise control over how much each person receives.

If you want sufficient food for a new child you have to request it. If your child wasn't approved they won't give you food for them. Perhaps they would instead take the child and raise them as a ward of the state.

If this pattern has been long established it may be culturally ingrained. People teach their children this is how it works. Everyone knows that if you try to have children without government approval they will be taken.

If the past circumstances that alarmed the Elders included severe reduction of the places on the planet that will grow food, the government might have easily taken control of all of these areas. Perhaps the staple food isn't even grown at all but instead is a synthetic production.

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Religion

Procreating is bad and must be forbidden except on the only one holy day each year/decade were you are all permitted to try procreating once and only once, for thy great ancient lords told ya so.

Thou shalt not make babies when thy lord didn't allow you.

Beware citizens, being X is watching you.

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    $\begingroup$ and to make sure this is obeyed you have an armed eunuch following everybody around constantly, shooting anyone who doesn't obey? $\endgroup$ – Burki Jul 26 '17 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ That might be fun indeed ! $\endgroup$ – Kaël Jul 27 '17 at 7:26
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Today's reality:

  • Favor LGBT communities and their style of thinking. Those people don't have that much children as normal families. Most of them won't have any on their own for obvious reasons.
  • Favor divorces, destroy the model of classic family. Same results, less children that can be taken care of.
  • Let people think that the biggest values are for them not their children, families, but their careers and money, how much they can buy and so on.
  • Favor careless style of life, where the main goal is entertainment. Sex? Anytime, we have pills...Drugs. Adrenaline. Travel.
  • picture out that having children is expensive and it keeps you away from fun...it is hard to do all that stuff from previous point with small children. They will destroy your life!

Do this all in the name of human rights, it will be noble of you, they will agree, even though in long term it means that their numbers will decrease without outer migration, that their culture will void over time (less participants), they will seem to be happy.

How to do this? Just look at today's media, what are they doing. Look at today's schools, where all those values are shared with children... The people will regulate themself and even happily! At least most of them, but you can call the rest as neonazis and let the community despise them. Via media.

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