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Gallup Vault: Population Fears Didn't Scare Americans at First
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Population Fears Didn't Scare Americans at First

In 1959, three-quarters of Americans told Gallup they heard or read about "the great increase in population which is predicted for the world during the next few decades." At the same time, only 21% said they were worried about it. Seven in 10 said they were not.

Americans' Views About "the Great Increase in Population Which Is Predicted for the World During the Next Few Decades"
Dec. 3-8, 1959
  Heard of Worried about it
  % %
Yes 75 21
No 25 70
No opinion * 9

Gallup repeated this question several times over the next few years. And while awareness of the population growth issue remained high -- it was the cover story on Time and other national publications -- the percentage worried about it increased only slightly to 30% in 1965.

Somewhere between then and the next time Gallup asked about it in 1992, far fewer Americans were familiar with the prediction (51%), but a much higher percentage said they were worried about it when asked (68%). In Gallup's final reading in 1999, 58% were familiar with the forecast and 48% were concerned about it.


It is important to note that the gap in Gallup's trend spans one of the most important events in public discussion about global population growth -- the publication of Paul Ehrlich's bestselling 1968 book on the subject, The Population Bomb, which predicted the population would soon outpace global food supplies, leading to mass starvation. While the immense attention given to that book could explain the jump in U.S. worry between 1965 and 1992, Gallup polling in 1971 found relatively subdued concern in answer to some different questions focused on U.S population growth. In that poll, 87% of Americans said the threat of U.S. population growth was a problem, but half (54%) said they were concerned about it and fewer than half (41%) said it required immediate action.

In any case, Ehrlich's predictions ultimately proved wrong for a variety of reasons, including the slowing of birth rates around the world and major advances in food production that more than kept up with the expanding population. Ultimately, George Gallup's analysis of Americans' low level of concern in 1963 (see accompanying news story) proved prescient: "The chief rationale for this lack of worry is some variant of the argument that 'nature will take care of things somehow.'"

Read the original Gallup poll release.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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