Earlier this week, I wrote about how Population Connection works to slow population growth. This post addresses how we measure the impact of our work. We can’t estimate how many unintended pregnancies we’ve prevented, the way clinics can do, for example. Coming up with metrics for any social movement is difficult, since there are so many groups and individuals who deserve part of the credit.
Of course, at the organizational level, we do track metrics such as how many people attend our grassroots events, how many teachers we train to use our PopEd materials, and how many members of Congress we convince to cosponsor progressive family planning bills. But beyond that, it’s impossible for us to determine how much responsibility we can fairly claim for the domestic and international population achievements of the last half-century.
So—have we had an effect on global population growth?
What we can say is that since our organization was founded (in 1968, as ZPG) and we started educating Americans about population growth and advocating for better access to affordable birth control, the U.S. fertility rate has gone from 2.58 children per woman to 1.84, and the global fertility rate has halved, from 4.92 to 2.47.
This means that although the world population is still growing by about 83 million people a year, the rate of growth has slowed since our founding. In the late 1960s, the growth rate peaked at 2.06%, implying a doubling time of only 34 years. Now it’s 1.08% (doubling time of 65 years).
A doubling of the population in a short time presents massive challenges to government, infrastructure, education, labor, and the natural environment. Today’s population of 7.5 billion has doubled since 1971, when it was 3.75 billion; this doubling ended up taking 46 years—as opposed to the 34 it would have taken if the growth rate back then had held constant—because during the past fifty years the annual growth rate has been declining steadily.
The rate of unintended pregnancy in the U.S. has gone down as well—a 2016 study found that “only” 45% of pregnancies are unintended, down from 51% for many years prior. And the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is the lowest it’s been since records have been kept.
So, while no social movement can truly quantify its effect, I think it’s safe to say that the popularization of the small family and the idea that reproductive rights, including family planning and safe abortion, are human rights have enabled many Americans and people in countries receiving our aid to have the number of children they wanted, when they wanted them—which almost always means fewer than they would have without the medical breakthroughs and behavior changes that Population Connection has helped over the past five decades to perpetuate and advance.
 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision.