The Taboo Topic of Overpopulation

The Mother: Caring for 7 Billion

Christophe Forchere (2011)

As the title suggests, The Mother is about the taboo topic of global overpopulation and its role in serious environmental degradation and growing food and water shortages. The film maintains that our refusal to discuss the population issue leads to confusion and oversimplification. Based on our success in halving population growth over the last fifty years, policy makers make out the problem is solved and there’s no need to discuss it any longer. This complacency can be very dangerous, especially as various countries, worried about supporting a large aged population, start bribing women to have more babies.

According to the filmmakers, population pressures play out differently in developed and developing countries. In developed countries overconsumption compounds the impact of population growth on fragile ecosystems and increasingly scarce resources. This overconsumption is largely driven by artificially created consumer demand orchestrated by a political/economic system obsessed with continuous economic growth. In the US, especially, population pressures (eg media pressure on women to have babies) are an important driver of consumer demand and economic growth

When you include immigration, the US is the third fastest growing country in the world. Rapid population growth is a major culprit in continuing joblessness in the US. The economy would need to add 150,000 jobs per month just to keep up with their growing population, yet clearly falls short of this number.

In the developing world, overpopulation plays an important role in malnutrition, starvation deaths and epidemic disease levels. Here, the film asserts, the number one cause of excess population growth is male dominance over women. In many developing countries, poverty leads families to marry off their daughters as young as nine or ten, while patriarchal fundamentalist religions forbid them from using birth control.

For me the high point of the film was a section on the Population Media Center, which works to empower Ethiopian women and improve their access to education and contraception. Their most effective strategy has been to create radio soap operas with charismatic female characters who serve as role models for young women.

One study revels these programs increased the use of contraception by 150% in a single year. They also gave teenage girls confidence to stay in school rather than following family dictates to marry older men. Research consistently shows that educating girls postpones them marrying and having children, keeps them HIV negative and causes them to have fewer children.

The film also stresses the importance of microfinance in empowering women – and communities – as women are more likely than men to invest their profits in their communities. Globally only 1% of women are able to obtain loans from traditional banks.


*Microfinance is the provision of savings accounts, loans, insurance, money transfers and other banking services (usually by non-profit organizations) to customers that lack access to traditional banks. Traditional microlending models gear these services towards women in developing countries.