Population

What are the issues?

The world’s population surpassed seven billion in 2011 and, according to UN projections, the next milestone of eight billion will occur in 2025 and then reach 9.7 billion by 2050. These statistics, however, mask varying demographic trends across geographic regions. Almost all of today’s population growth is occurring in developing countries where approximately 90 percent of the world’s youth reside. Today there are nearly 2.5 billion people under the age of 19 representing one third of the world’s population. These young people will set the course of global health and population growth for many years to come. Yet, global fertility rates have begun to decline over the past few decades and in some countries, populations are aging rapidly placing increased pressure on public sector pension systems and social welfare programs. International migration may help mitigate the effects of population aging in some countries, but cannot completely compensate for it. These different circumstances result in sharply contrasting policy considerations.

What are the Department's goals?

The goal of U.S. international population policy is to promote healthy and educated populations by supporting reproductive health and rights, voluntary family planning, women’s empowerment, development, and efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. The U.S. does not endorse population "stabilization" or "control." The "ideal" family size should be determined by the desires of couples, not governments. The U.S. strongly opposes coercive population programs. And, in keeping with PRM’s core mission to place protection of the worlds’ most vulnerable at the center of U.S. foreign policy, the Bureau also promotes the provision of life-saving maternal and reproductive health care services in crisis settings.

What is the policy?

The United States strongly supports the Program of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which was negotiated and accepted by 179 governments and set far-reaching goals linking global health, human rights, and development. A key principle of the ICPD is that couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and the right to have the information, education, and means to do so. Reproductive health care programs should not include any form of coercion.

Enabling women to determine whether, when, and how often to have children is crucial to safe motherhood and healthy families. Increasing access to reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning, has profound health, economic, and social benefits. It reduces maternal and child death and disability, reduces recourse to abortion, and empowers women by creating opportunities for education, employment and full participation in society.

The Bureau coordinates diplomatic engagement on international population issues, and provides leadership to advance the U.S. government’s goal of promoting healthy and educated populations. PRM works with counterparts within the Department (e.g., S/GWI, IO, S/GAC, DRL) and other U.S. agencies (e.g., USAID, HHS, Census Bureau) to accomplish foreign policy goals related to population. This includes working to ensure outcome documents and resolutions adopted in UN or other intergovernmental forums are consistent with U.S. policy through outreach and dialogue with government officials, multilateral organizations, NGOs, and other stakeholders engaged in demographic, voluntary family planning, gender equality, and reproductive and maternal health issues. The Bureau leads the U.S. delegation to the annual UN Commission on Population and Development and represents the U.S. on the Executive Board of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). PRM is involved in international negotiations on a wide array of issues including maternal mortality, gender-based violence, child, early, and forced marriage, obstetric fistula, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Why it matters

Improving health outcomes in the world’s poorest countries is a key priority for the Department. Worldwide an estimated 300,000 women and three million newborn babies die every year as a result of pregnancy and childbirth complications. In addition to the 800 women who die each day, 20-30 more suffer long-term debilitating pregnancy-related injuries, such as obstetric fistula. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in developing countries; however, the vast majority are preventable. Often when a mother dies, her family and community also suffer, and surviving children face higher risks of poverty, neglect, or even death. To address these issues, PRM seeks to expand efforts to make pregnancy and childbirth safer by strengthening health systems to provide women with integrated health services, including increased access to reproductive and maternal health care and voluntary family planning.

The U.S. government will continue to partner with governments, the private sector, international and non-governmental organizations to improve health outcomes and empower women and young people to realize their full potential and help drive social and economic development.