At last look, nearly 400,000 people had watched the latest TED Talk about population by doctor and statistician Hans Rosling, whose charts and graphs with colorful bouncing bubbles make statistics accessible to the numerically challenged among us. A few key points:

  • Religion has little to do with the number of children per women.
  • You don’t have to get rich to have few children.
  • Countries with the highest mortality rates have the fastest population growth.
  • We have reached “peak child” (i.e., the number of children worldwide is no longer growing).

Rosling’s take-home message (spoiler alert!) is spelled out in a slide that appears at 9:38 (no bouncing bubbles, sorry):

Babies per women decrease when:

1. Children survive.

2. Many children are not needed for work.

3. Women get education and join the labor force.

4. Family planning is accessible.

Some family planning advocates take issue with Rosling’s final few minutes, though, in which he uses cardboard boxes to show why the world population will stabilize at 10 billion and why not much can be done to keep it from going that high. It’s especially odd that he locks us in at 10 billion just a minute after telling us how to slow down.

After all, the latest U.N. projections range from 6.2 billion to 15.8 billion by 2100. With that much uncertainty, it’s hard to imagine that any number is inevitable. In fact, Rosling himself claimed in a 2010 TED Talk (using plastic boxes instead of cardboard) that “we can stop at 9 billion if we do the right thing” – mainly, if the world’s poorest countries invest in child survival.

Is that any less true two years later?

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Jonathan Miller is executive director of Homelands Productions, a journalism cooperative specializing in public radio features and documentaries. As a freelance journalist, he has reported from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the U.S. for NPR, BBC, CBC, American Public Media's Marketplace, Monitor Radio, VOA, Radio Netherlands and Radio Deutsche Welle. He also has written for The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Parents, American Way, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. For 13 years, he lived and worked in the Philippines and Peru. 

Jon is currently serving as executive producer of "Food for 9 Billion," a collaborative project of Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media's Marketplace, PRI's The World, and PBS NewsHour. He was executive producer of Homelands' award-winning "WORKING" project profiling workers in the global economy (2007-09) and the "Worlds of Difference" series about the responses of traditional societies to rapid cultural change (2002-05).