World Population Trends and the Rise of homo sapiens literata

Lutz, W. ORCID: (2019). World Population Trends and the Rise of homo sapiens literata. IIASA Working Paper. Laxenburg, Austria: WP-19-012

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World population has increased remarkably from one billion around 1804, to two billion by 1927, to the current 7.7 billion. While growth in absolute terms is still at record high levels, the rate of increase has declined over the past decades and there is a credible prospect of world population peaking during the second half of the 21st century before reaching the 10 billion mark. This prospect will largely depend on whether female literacy continues to spread in Africa and Western Asia as it already has in other parts of the world. While throughout history literacy has been limited to tiny and mostly male elites, it was only over the course of the 20th century that mass education of both men and women rapidly spread on the global scale, leaving only limited pockets of female illiteracy concentrated in Africa. In this paper I argue that this phenomenal rise in global literacy – and in particular female literacy – has been a primary driver of human development through the cognitive changes associated with learning to assign abstract meaning to a combination of signs and thus discouraged fatalism in favor of more rational planning in one’s behavior. Because of this overriding importance of female literacy for demographic and socioeconomic development in this paper I coin the notion of “homo sapiens literata” to highlight the decisive role of female education and point to the fact that educated humans tend to behave in a qualitatively different way from their illiterate counterparts. The paper concludes with discussing alternative scenarios for population and education trends, up to 2100, following the SSP (Shared Socioeconomic Pathway) narratives. The dramatically divergent paths illustrate how investments in the near future, particularly in the universal education of girls, will be highly relevant for future resilience of the human species and the adaptive capacity to already unavoidable environmental change.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: World Population (POP)
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 09 Dec 2019 13:59
Last Modified: 05 Aug 2023 05:01

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