VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > A. General and Comparative Dimensions > 1. Changing Global Patterns > b. Globalization of Material Life > 4. Population Trends and Migrations
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
4. Population Trends and Migrations
World population grew at an unprecedented rate after 1945, though regional trends varied:
Estimated population (in thousands)
North America106,000166,000279,000
Latin America, Caribbean166,000458,000
Massive population growth resulted from improved public health measures and successful attacks on many traditional diseases. Infant mortality generally declined, which also meant more people reached childbearing age, and life expectancy rose (despite major regional variations). Food supplies largely kept pace. Most regions saw a decline in the rate of population growth by the 1980s, and there were some dramatic demographic transitions (Japan in the 1950s, Mexico in the 1960s). Overall however rapid growth is expected to continue into the 21st century. By the 1990s, the annual natural population increase (births over deaths) averaged 2.1 percent in developing countries and .5 %percent in industrial countries.  2
Concern about world overpopulation gained ground. Many Western experts in the 1950s and 1960s argued that population control was essential for industrialization (lest too many resources be expended on sheer survival). Some remnants of racist concern about the growth of nonwhite populations may have entered in to this view. United Nations agencies largely accepted the argument that population control was an essential goal, and worked to distribute birth control information. By the 1980s, concern about the environmental effects of population growth exceeded the older focus on the impact on industrial development. A concerted international approach to population issues was hampered, however, by the opposition of the Catholic Church and, under Republican administrations, of the United States; these factors limited United Nations action by the 1980s. Most birth control policies were national; they varied by region and time period (China's policy changed several times) and also varied in effectiveness.  3
Population issues relating to public health, birth control, and family planning became major subjects of international debate. Early international conferences on population—World Population Conference in Rome (1954) and the Second World Population Conference in Belgrade (1965)—dealt with scientific and technical issues. The United Nations designated 1974 as WORLD POPULATION YEAR, and the first major intergovernmental World Population Conference was held in Bucharest. The debates involved in drafting the World Population Plan for Action reflected international differences. China, the Soviet Union, and a number of developing countries, despite their own domestic policies, opposed international commitments to birth control as a new form of imperialism. The Roman Catholic Church and many predominantly Catholic countries opposed birth control and population planning on ideological grounds. The UN International Conference on Population in Mexico City in 1984 reached greater agreement on general issues. The issue of abortion was heatedly debated, and funding for population programs that allowed abortion was opposed by the U.S., reflecting the position of the Reagan administration, and the Roman Catholic Church. The final conference statement involved support for a commitment to global population control. The draft of the action program of the 1994 UN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON POPULATION in Cairo reflected the continuing evolution of population concerns. While older ideological reservations about abortion remained in the debate, of greater concern were emerging global issues relating to improving the role of women, and the relationship among population, environmental conditions, and development, in achieving sustainable development that does not do irreparable environmental damage.  4
Population problems varied in intensity in different regions. FAMINES resulting from natural causes and civil wars resulted in major loss of life in the Sahel region in Africa in the 1970s, in Ethiopia and Sudan in the 1980s, and in other parts of the world. Refugees from famine, poverty, and wars grew in number by the 1990s. In mid-1993, it was estimated that there were more than 18 million international refugees and an additional 24 million who were displaced within their own country.  5
World population and economic trends created new patterns of emigration (though some of these had begun to take shape between the world wars). After the postwar dislocations (including movement of European Jews to Israel), emigration from Europe became insignificant. Africa (particularly North Africa), Central America and the Caribbean, Pakistan, Turkey, Thailand, China, the Philippines, and the Koreas became the largest sources of international migration, both legal and illegal. Destinations were most often the United States and Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and, to a limited extent, Japan—centers of industrialization. Changes in U.S. law (See June 26) facilitated non-European immigration, which came mainly from Asia and Central America; overall, 6 million Mexican workers, both legal and illegal, entered the country. By the 1970s the United States was experiencing the highest absolute rate of immigration in its history. By 1990, immigration had brought more than 12 million non-European people into the European Community. Japan had received about 600,000 foreigners, mainly from the Koreas and Southeast Asia. In all cases, most immigrants were unskilled laborers and were often badly treated, though there was an important if small outpouring of professionals (doctors, engineers) from places like India as well. An important subsidiary pattern of immigration involved oil-rich states in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which received migrants from other parts of the Middle East (Egyptians, Palestinians) and also from Pakistan, India, and parts of Southeast Asia. International migration plus ongoing rural-to-urban migration increased city size. Several predominantly rural areas in 1945 had a majority urban population by the 1990s. MEGACITIES with huge populations developed; by the 1990s, 14 metropolitan areas had a population above 10 million, 9 of them in the Third World.  6
A rough periodization described the new international migration patterns. Rapid industrial growth in Europe and the United States prompted favorable reception, and in some cases active recruitment, of immigrants during the 1950s and 1960s. Slower growth, more frequent recessions, and a tendency toward growing unemployment, particularly among the unskilled, produced new hostility to immigration from the 1970s onward. This new environment included legislative limits, attempts to force some migrants to leave, and increased racist incidents.  7
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.