Written by
Simon Beard, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

Undoubtedly, many of the most pressing challenges of our age relate to changes in human population.

Many people believe that the world is overpopulated and that population growth is causing significant social, economic and environmental harm. However, countries with low rates of population growth are struggling to cope with ageing populations and shrinking workforces.

Engagement with the ethics of population change has, for many years, been divided up between different disciplines, each with their own perspective on the issue. Analytical moral philosophers have debated the value of future lives, bioethicists have considered the moral burden of unmet reproductive health needs, sociologists and anthropologists have studied the emergence of norms and moral beliefs about reproduction and its social context, political theorists have engaged with the limitations of contemporary discourse and economists have modelled the efficiency of allocating resources over larger and smaller populations. Meanwhile demographers, and other social scientists, study the causes and consequences of population change, but seldom engaged with its moral dimensions.
This colloquium was designed to bridge some of these gaps, bybringing together diverse groups to share their perspectives and learn from one another and to present their findings to policy makers and members of the public. In an ambitious program that presented the work of fellows from a wide variety of backgrounds considering very different aspects of population change the colloquium aimed to stimulate growth in new areas of interdisciplinary research towards solving the demographic challenges of our time.

Key themes

Key themes of the colloquium included:

  • The morality of birth: why do people decide to have children and what role can, and should, morality play in such decisions?
  • The changing shape of society: how are large-scale demographic changes, such as growing life expectancy and shrinking family sizes, changing the dynamics of our lives, and how should society respond to this?
  • Human populations and the environment: how do growing human populations interact with other species and what challenges does this raise for our planet?
  • Optimum demographics: what role does population play in economic and social development and is there such a thing as an optimum population?

The colloquium closed with a keynote public lecture from Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Emeritus Professor, Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Cambridge.


Dr Greg Bognar, Senior Lecturer in Practical Philosophy, University of Stockholm

Dr Elizabeth Cripps, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Edinburgh

Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Cambridge

Dr Luara Ferracioli, Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam

Martin Kolk, Post-Doctoral student, University of Stockholm

Karin Kuhlemann, PhD student, University College London

Silvia Milano, PhD student, London School of Economics

Dr Beatrice Okyere-Manu, Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Nata

Isabella Trifan, PhD student, Pompeu Fabra University

Organising Committee

Simon Beard, Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

Dr Elizabeth Finneron-Burns, Teaching Fellow, University of Warwick

Julia Mosquera, PhD student, University of Reading

Michael Plant, PhD Student, University of Oxford

Joshua Wells, PhD student, University of Reading

This colloquium was kindly supported by:

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

Royal Economic Society

Society for Applied Philosophy

British Society for Population Studies

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Published Date
26 September, 2016