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Population Control

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"Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend's house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend. Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police."
— Book summary of Among the Hidden

To try to solve an Overpopulation Crisis, governments may limit the total number of children a person or couple can have.

There are a number of variations on this. Sometimes every couple is allowed a fixed number (frequently two); other times, the number allowed is tradable, luck-based, or determined by some kind of eugenic principle (parenting skills are less commonly judged). Enforcement methods may range from punitive taxes on extra children, through mandated birth control and sterilization upon the birth of the last child allowed, to outright killing of excess population.

These dystopias always seem to assume stable long term marriages, they usually offer some number of children per couple. Second marriages are ignored.

Only very rarely does it actually work. Often it signals a descent into dystopia. It's also very common for the protagonist to be a child who exceeds the population cap.

Or it can work too well, ending up with a Childless Dystopia.

This trope is most common in literary science fiction from the '60s and '70s; it died out as a trope because while it had its heyday in fiction, the post-World War II Baby Boom came to an end as living standards and opportunities for women in North America and Western Europe expanded and people chose to have fewer children starting later in life. Since then, the pattern has held and spread to other parts of the world, largely making this a Dead Horse Trope.

Because population growth is considered by some to be a problem in Real Life, fictional Population Control is seldom directed toward encouraging or mandating births, either among some groups or the entire population. Inversions occasionally do crop up in works in which a Depopulation Bomb, Robot War, mass infertility or other threat has made humans an Endangered Species.

The entries on this page mainly concern keeping the population down by preventing pregnancies (through birth control or sterilization) or preventing illegal children (through abortion or infanticide). In some works of fiction, the government attempts to prevent pregnancies and control the population through banning sex or promoting/enforcing homosexuality.

In some cases population laws are repealed or at least slackened when the capacity for interstellar colonization is achieved.

See Also: Kill the Poor, for one instance where this trope is selectively applied, and Darwin Awards, for accidentally self-inflicted examples.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, when a third of humanity's territory is overtaken by the titular giants, a fifth of the population — mostly refugees from the lost territory — is hastily conscripted for a suicidal counterattack. While the best-case scenario is obviously for the attack to succeed and the territory be retaken, the government barely even tries to conceal that the true objective is to reduce the population to free up food and resources for those that remain. It does not succeed, and the attack force is lost nearly to a man.
  • DNA² has an extreme example: the future has a problem with overpopulation, and a strict law was enforced that allows people to only have one child. Men who father more than one child get the death penalty. When they found out that a mega playboy of the name of Junta Momonari had fathered 100 children and had left behind mostly male descendants with the same potent DNA, he had already been dead for quite some time. They decide that instead of altering the DNA of those descendants, it'd be much easier to just go back in time and alter Junta's DNA before he became a playboy and fathers any children. Which starts up the plot.
  • In Dr. STONE, Gen explains the concept of Dunbar's number, which states that any person can only maintain relationships with a maximum of around 150 people (which happens to be the size of the Kingdom of Science at that point). If the group gets any larger, it will split. For this reason, Senku didn't start trying to make more revival fluid after the cave was destroyed but before they found platinum, which allowed him to make an infinite revival fluid generator. He doesn't restrict people from increasing the population the old-fashioned way, though.
  • In KamiKatsu: Working for God in a Godless World, an apocalyptic incident reduces mankind to a single empire secretly ruled by machines. In this empire, people are born artificially, know nothing of sex and are set to be executed upon becoming "useless" to society. All of them are conditioned to accept this as normal, and the few who protest are banished to towns surrounding the empire where they might live to an old age but must not conceive children.
  • Inverted in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, as the Coordinators' society in the space colonies — whose population was steadily reducing — actually mandated Arranged Marriage in the hopes of increasing birth rates. It didn't work.
  • This is the true purpose of the numbers in Plunderer.
  • A major theme in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, as this is practiced in villages, planets and entire universes.

    Comic Books 
  • Inverted in The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Transformers are born by the planet releasing pulses which settle and create life by coding energy in a spark, which is placed in a body to make a new Transformer. The pulses began to decline (and in other continuities, like Regeneration-1 the race goes extinct) so the then leader, Nova Prime, commissioned life to be drawn from his matrix as he needed to expand the population though his other motive was to make their race great so they could colonize beyond their world.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The Sangtee Empire doesn't allow natural procreation of their subjects at all to control the population. Only state run cloning is legal, and all subjects are to be, or at least live publicly, as men or be enslaved.

    Film — Animation 
  • Sister (2018) consists of a man's memories of growing up with his little sister — until the end when he reveals that his little sister was never born. Her mother aborted a pregnancy that would have been his little sister due to China's One Child Policy.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Mentioned in the opening expository voice-over in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, as well as the Brian Aldiss short story it was based on, "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long", as a response to the polar ice caps melting and flooding the coastlines.
  • The defining motivation of the Mad Titan Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. His Evil Plan is to enact a 50% reduction in the population on all civilized worlds, across the entire universe, so no one will have to suffer losing their entire world to an Overpopulation Crisis like he did for generations.
  • In Child Reduction Act, families with more than one child must either pay a tax on the extras or send them to concentration camps.
  • Fortress (1992) has the protagonist and his pregnant wife try to leave a dystopian US after it implements a one-child policy to fight increasing population growth. In fact, their first baby was stillborn, though the government apparently doesn't make an exception — one shot is all you get. For this "crime", they are sent to a huge underground prison.
  • In Time: Society has been rendered ageless, but to counteract the inevitable population explosion, every living person has a clock which holds their exact amount of time left to live. People can earn more time through various means, but once they hit zero, they die instantly. The system is skewed to place the burden on the poorest part of the population.
  • In The Last Child, each U.S. couple is only allowed to have one child. If the first child dies, they can't have another, even if they died before puberty.
  • Logan's Run: The population in the seemingly utopian future world is maintained by executing everyone who reaches the age of thirty.
  • In Clive Barker's The Plague, having any children is declared illegal worldwide, as a mysterious ailment has caused all children under the age of nine (unborn babies included) to fall into a coma. Until a cure can be found, producing more comatose infants will only exhaust the resources already strained by the need to care for so many inert children.
  • Inverted in Robot Jox, which has the government using propaganda to encourage pregnancy after most of the world was devastated by World War III.
  • Notably averted in Soylent Green. The lack of any sort of population control at all is exactly the reason why it's such a Crapsack World to begin with.
  • Starship Troopers: One of the female infantry recruits says that she joined because she wants to have babies, and it's easier to get a license if you're a citizen.
  • In Supernova, despite the fact that there are multiple colonized planets, on a spaceship each individual has to apply for a license to have children. Their problems start when the guy is given a license but the girl isn't, meaning they can't have a child together.
  • What Happened to Monday: The future EU strictly enforces a strict one-child policy, with second siblings forbidden and any found placed in cryo-sleep to be woken when the population decreases. At least officially. In reality, they're killed.
  • Z.P.G.: All parents are forbidden from having children for one generation (30 years). The penalty for violation is death.

Examples by author:
  • Poul Anderson is evidently quite fond of this trope:
    • In "Time Lag", Vaynamo has stabilized its population voluntarily. This incites anger in the conquerors — Chertkoi is heavily overpopulated. Bors tells Elva that they can't hoard its resources; Elva retorts they should take the consequences of having bred like maggots.
    • In "Starfog", when Graydal hears that there are planets where some women do not bear children owing to population control, she immediately concludes that her ship, which they believe cannot return home, must stay on the frontier world.
    • In "Eutopia", Iason scorns the Westfell reasons: true, they limit their population too, only not because people need space, but because of their greedy desire not to split up their estates — in service of their reified families.
    • In "Goat Song", the population control requires exactly as many children born as decreed, to keep human society human. Harper notes that this means the promise to revive them all in the future must be a lie.
  • Robert A. Heinlein has a few examples:
    • In I Will Fear No Evil, each person gets licensed for a set number of children when he/she turns eighteen. Eunice mentions at one point her marriage is considered a "second class contract", since she's licensed for children and her husband is not, implying that if he were, their marriage would be in a different category.
    • The end of Methuselah's Children mentions that Earth now has such an overpopulation problem that you need a license to have kids, which is why earth needs Andy Libby's FTL drive.
    • In Podkayne of Mars, Marsmen apply to the 'Population, Ecology and Genetics' Board to be 'pegged' at a preset number of children, probably because of the necessity of not exceeding the support potential of the semi-terraformed colony. However, none of the mentioned families seem to have any trouble getting the number they want. Podkayne's parents are in fact offered seven children, but her mother prefers five as 'all she has time for'.
    • On the other hand, rejected outright in Starship Troopers. The Terran Federation believes that if humanity were to instate birth control and stop expanding, they'd be wiped out by another, more aggressive species.
    • One of Lazarus Long's stories in Time Enough for Love brings up a time that Earth tried declaring everyone over 80 to be legally dead, this being a couple centuries after they invented rejuvenation, one of Lazarus's sons tries emigrating a bunch of those elderly refugees to a new colony world. And one mentioned symptom of Secundus's decay, two thousand years after colonization, is that they've instituted birth quotas.
    • In Time for the Stars, each family can have three children. Extra children are taxed, and the family doesn't receive government financial help for them. Families can trade for each other's unused child slots or apply for reclassification for more children.
  • Fred Saberhagen wrote a 20 Minutes into the Future book like this: Stripperific clothing and casual sex are societal norms, but couples are limited to two offspring, with severe penalties for violations.
Examples by title:
  • The Kesh society in Always Coming Home has strong societal taboos against having more than two children. It's not forbidden or illegal, but it is frowned upon, and since contraceptives and abortion are easily accessed most families stick to it. Since leftover pollution has made miscarriages and stillbirths very common, getting two children can be difficult on its own.
  • Animorphs: In The Andalite Chronicles, it is mentioned that the Andalites used to have population control laws, but that they were repealed because of the war.
  • The plot of The Bear and the Dragon is kicked off when a Vatican diplomat and a Baptist minister try to intervene in a late-term abortion mandated by China's one-child policy. They get killed for it, sparking international outrage (but the baby lives).
  • In The Bladerunner (no relation) by Alan Nourse, the government requires sterilization as the price of medical treatment. A "bladerunner" is someone who smuggles surgical tools for doctors willing to perform unauthorized medicine (doctors aren't permitted to take medical equipment out of the hospitals).
  • In Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, all colonies impose birth licensing policies once they reach a certain population density. While there are plenty of dystopian governments, even the nice ones do it. There is a group of women, whom the eponymous space trader nicknames "the Frantic Mothers", whose goal in life seems to be to bear as many children as possible, regardless of who the fathers are. They will do anything to move to a new colony that encourages this sort of behavior, including paying for passage with sex (preferably with a fertile male, for obvious reasons). Since the protagonist had himself sterilized (completely reversible), the Frantic Mothers are a little disappointed in him. Since most humans in this universe undergo a procedure that stops aging, it is possible for the same woman to be the progenitor of several colonies (imagine how many babies she can make in several centuries). While the protagonist isn't a big fan of such women, he does admit that they're the driving force behind most colonization ventures, pestering their government until it decides to finance the construction of a colony ship. It's mentioned that getting a child license often requires waiting for decades, if not centuries (kudos to a couple that stays together long enough to get a license), since it requires someone to die to "free up the spot", and natural death is no longer an option for most people.
  • Carnival by Elizabeth Bear has an AI that determines the maximum stable population of Earth and selects people to be killed whenever it is exceeded.
  • In The Caves of Steel, Earth licenses couples to have a number of children based on the parents' genes and social contributions. This is presented quite neutrally (Isaac Asimov considered overpopulation to be a major threat). Spacer societies are considered less moral, since they combine population control with eugenic breeding programs and mandated late term abortion (late term as in "all the way up to adulthood").
  • In the CoDominium universe, Earth is so overcrowded the government is slipping contraceptive drugs into the Citizens' food supplies and releasing infertility viruses into the ghetto/reservation-like Welfare Islands. Only those who move to frontier planets can have larger families.
  • A variation of this based on gender is put out in The Dark Elf Trilogy. The main character Drizzt was, incidentally, a third son.
  • In The Declaration by Gemma Malley, people who have signed the Declaration are not allowed to have children. That doesn't stop them, though, and the kids end up in Surplus Halls, or worse.
  • Ender's Game has a two-child limit enforced by punitive taxation. However, because Earth is governed by a somewhat weak version of The Federation, certain individual jurisdictions, particularly predominantly Catholic ones, seem to have lax enforcement policies. Ender is a state-sponsored exception as his parents were supposed to breed a fleet-commanding prodigy and his older siblings turned out to be a sociopath and a pacifist. He still took a lot of crap in school because of his Third status. It is hinted in the Ender's Shadow spinoff series that the population laws were actually a Zero-Approval Gambit designed to be so unpopular as to hasten the dissolution of The Federation after the war so that humanity would not be controlled by a single monolithic government that could be corrupted.
  • In Dmitry Glukhovsky's The Future, the world of the 25th century is a Society of Immortals as a result of the development of an anti-aging vaccine 300 years prior. The trade-off is the abandonment of traditional reproduction in favor of strict government-controlled population levels. Not everyone is happy with this, resulting in opposition to the ruling Immortality Party, which uses genetically engineered soldiers to police the society for any procreation violations, the most vocal of which is the so-called Life Party, members of which use both political and terrorist means to get their way.
  • Futuretrack Five has the Futuretracks, 'jobs' which are designed to help thin out the Unnem populace: most are geared towards a life in which either regular contact with direct violence kills followers, or significant (and artificially increased) risk kills them.
  • A stealth example can be found in Piers Anthony's Ghost, in which couples are only allowed to have kids if they're of different racial backgrounds. This is ostensibly intended to eliminate racism from the Earth within a generation, but in practice it's a population-control mechanism, as not everyone can find a suitable mate.
  • In The Giver, every family unit is allowed two children. If a child dies, the parents either can apply or are simply given another baby of the same gender and same name as a replacement. However, they come from Birthmothers, which only have 3 children, then a lifetime of hard labor. Even then, only 50 newbabes are given to parent units in December.
  • In the Great Ship universe, it is implied that passengers on the Greatship have to pay for additional berths for children. When almost every entity on the ship is some form of life-extended Transhuman, it's a practical (and profitable) method to keep the ship from being overrun by children. That being said, most of the Greatship remains largely empty and only marginally explored, as the ship is larger than Saturn.
  • In Green Mars, one character proposes to fight overpopulation by giving everyone the tradable birthright to three-quarters of a child. (That is, each couple has the right to 1.5 children; they can then buy or sell half-children to get the number they want and can afford.) This doesn't ever get implemented, though.
  • Hayven Celestia:
    • Ten Thousand Miles Up takes place on board a Generation Ship that has maintained a constant population of 10,000 for four hundred years with contraceptive implants and a waiting list to reproduce. Captain Atari and his wife Jakari took themselves off the list, giving up their chance to have kids until they steal a planet and a Terraformer and decide to stop enforcing the list.
    • Gre7g Luterman's stories flesh out the process further. Every geroo born on a generation ship is issued a "birth token" at birth and when they die their token is given to a couple that desires a child. The titular character of the Kanti Cycle novels was born illegally and has to conceal his existence from the commissioner who is willing to depopulate the ship to prevent overpopulation.
  • Hive Mind (2016): In the past, those classified as criminal or socially undesirable were barred from having children. This led to a population crash due to weakened disease resistance and assorted useful characteristics being mistakenly marked as negative. The controls were removed in order to reverse these problems, and Lottery was created to help channel personality traits that could be negative if expressed in an antisocial way. Joint Hive Treaty Enforcement mandates that all adult citizens are allowed to have two children if they want, and certain individuals are allowed to have many more 'duty children'. There do not appear to be rules against having more than two children, but below certain levels it is considered socially unacceptable.
  • Inside Series: The population is divided into two castes, the Uppers and the scrubs. Scrubs are encouraged to have as many children as possible and are denied birth control. Men and children who break the rules are executed, but fertile women who commit infractions become "breeders", kept chained down and constantly pregnant until their bodies give out from the strain. Uppers, on the other hand, are allowed one child per couple. If there's an accident with their birth control, the extra child is dyed to look like the scrubs' ethnicity and given to a scrub foster mother. The overlords use this to foster class division, telling the scrubs that the Uppers are spoiled rotten and telling the Uppers that the scrubs are too lazy and selfish to use birth control despite their overpopulation.
  • Known Space:
    • On Earth, the number of children you can have is based on several factors: you can be assigned children based on a fixed metric, buy licenses for extra children, or even win them in a lottery (this last is the result of alien influence by a species that's attempting to breed psychic luck powers into humanity). At one point, there are even legalized gladiatorial death duels for birthrights, winner take all. The ARM police go on "mother hunts" for those who illegally went over their reproductive limits, and very rare individuals are awarded an unlimited breeding license — their genes are declared to be so useful that humanity needs them more than it needs the room and resources freed up by not having them. Notably, Carlos Wu's genius and fitness gives him an unlimited birthright, while Beowulf Shaeffer's albinism revoked his birthrights, so Carlos fathered Beowulf's son Louis Wu. However, by the time of Ringworld, only the lottery remains due to corruption in the boards, so all of Louis's children are Lucky. Presumably, they'd also run out of health-impairing genetic traits to select against by that point.
    • Humanity's colony worlds lack population control of any kind. Eventually, Beowulf found a planet that was close enough to Earth that it wouldn't set off his wife's phobia of non-Earth environments and they had more children there.
  • F. Paul Wilson's LaNague Confederacy series has this in place on Earth That Used to Be Better, with an uncommon yet obvious complication to the trope; the population control bureau is completely and utterly corrupt. Though it supposedly enforces a "one child per parent" policy, any and all political activism is punished by sterilization under the guise of eliminating hereditary disease. Luckily, this came about after the development of Casual Interstellar Travel, and deviants are given the option to emigrate.
  • In "The Machine Stops", humans live their entire adult lives in one-person underground cells in which all their needs are met. The global Machine that provides for them keeps the birth and death rates balanced by mandating encounters for procreative sex — the only time humans actually interact in the flesh — and by approving requests for euthanasia from the elderly, sick, or unhappy.
  • The Neanderthal Parallax: The Neanderthals only have children once ever 10 years. This is accomplished by women and men living separately and only meeting on a cycle that ensures they're only fertile one visit every 10 years. The population control also allows them to concentrate their resources on particular age groups at regular, predictable intervals.
  • Pegasus in Flight has limited-children laws; theoretically, each woman is permitted two children (however, the rules can be bent by people with influence, such as the Center). These laws are enforced by having the extra children (and any women caught producing them) sterilized. The first protagonist is an example of an illegal extra child, who was retroactively legalized in exchange for services rendered to Law Enforcement and Order. It also has a plot with a child smuggling ring. These laws have apparently been repealed later in the Sequel Series Tower and the Hive, as multiple characters are shown having more than two children without any difficulty, presumably because practical interstellar travel has solved the crowding/resource issues that made the population control laws necessary in the first place.
  • As part of his book Philosophy in the Bedroom, the Marquis de Sade proposed limiting population growth to what the state deemed best by means of forced abortions, citing Aristotle making a similar suggestion.
  • In Poster Girl, the tyrannical Delegation enforced a strict One Child Policy on its citizens, except of course the privileged elite, who were regularly granted exceptions. 'Illegal' children caught would be taken from their parents and given up for adoption to childless couples... if they were still very young, that is. If they were old enough to remember their birth parents, they would instead be killed, just on the off chance that they could one day become a threat to the regime.
  • Quintaglio Ascension: The Quintaglious have Bloodpriests who ritually kill seven out of eight hatchlings to cull the race and ensure their territorial instincts don't overwhelm them with too many people around. Later, they are violently purged for it.
  • In Larry Niven's and Steven Barnes's Saturn's Race, the world discovered that a vaccine distributed throughout the third world nations twenty years prior had the deliberate side-effect of causing sterility in the children born to the inoculated.
  • In Scrapped Princess, the entire world is allowed to have only so many human residents; when the population gets too big, the excesses are killed off by the Peacemakers.
  • The Shadow Children sequence series is about a world where families can only have 2 children (the main character is, of course, a secret third child). Rich people are allowed to cheat, and the Population Police are utterly corrupt.
  • In the horrifying dystopia from "Shark Ship" by Cyril M. Kornbluth, the ocean-dwellers have a two-child limit (with officers of the ships forbidden children altogether for fear of nepotism.) It turns out that the land-dwellers implemented a one-child policy, and this, together with their glorification of violence and torture, has effectively provided a solution to the problem of overpopulation. A Final Solution, as it were.
  • The short story "The Sliced-Crosswise Only-on-Tuesday World" by Philip José Farmer (later expanded into the Dayworld series of novels) involves a world so overcrowded that it couldn't support more than a seventh of humanity; so Human Popsicle technology was perfected, allowing for each person to be awake only one day out of each week. The story has a Downer Ending: after working hard to get on the same day with a woman he's fallen in love with after seeing her in her cryo-tube, he finds that she has worked equally hard to get onto his old shift...
  • The Space Odyssey Series: In 2061, it's explained that the one-child policy of China was eventually replaced by one where a person can have two children for free but any additional children cost a prohibitively-expensive fee which doubled with every additional child; one character, Sir Lawrence Tsung, is a multimillionaire who was able to afford to have ten children (his ninth child, William Tsung, has a shuttle craft named after him).
  • Stand on Zanzibar has eugenically based population control, with incredibly strict genetic screening requirements (e.g., people who carry color-blindness genes or genes correlated with schizophrenia are not allowed to have children). The title comes from the idea that, if you gave everybody on Earth something like two or three square feet, at the time of the story's start, they would just fit onto the island of Zanzibar. Even with the above, by the story's end, humanity would be well into the waters off Zanzibar...
  • Lisa Mason's future in her book Summer of Love has a lottery for who can and cannot have children, but adds the concept of "skip-children", where frustrated parents can put their combined DNA in a bank to be born decades or centuries later, to be raised by a descendant.
  • The giant eagles from Tales of the Magic Land have a law that their tribe must have only a hundred birds, due to limited food resources. Since they often live up to two hundred, any new baby receives a lot of attention. The one bird that appears in the story attempted a coup after the tribe's chief attempted to put himself on top of the queue.
  • In Twig, it's revealed that one of the major future plans of the Academy of Evil is the implementation of universal sterilization that only the Academy can cure, allowing them to selectively control which individuals reproduce by choosing who to give out the cure to. This is only discovered when a disgruntled academy graduate initiates the program early and distributes information on it, resulting in massive popular unrest.
  • In the Uglies series, parents are prohibited, and also incapable because of the whole pretty-mind-thing, of having more than one child every ten years. This keeps the pretty parents able to focus on one child, and keeps sibling bonds from forming. It's surprisingly effective.
  • In the Uplift universe, all reproduction has to be carefully screened, both as population control and as a prerequisite to joining the Galactic civilization. Probationers are those who fail — they are permanently sterilized to avoid spreading undesirable genes. Client races have a card-system, colors determine how many kids you can have, and a White Card is an unlimited license — your genes are so good, anyone who wants them can have them.
  • In Vicarious, the people aboard the Generation Ship Ignis are under strict population control, as they believe themselves to be the last humans alive, and it's up to them to keep humanity alive until they reach their destination. The ones in charge use computer modeling to match specially selected mothers to men based on DNA compatibility. All other women are given contraceptive implants. It's not uncommon for young couples to secretly remove the implant and try for a baby. Invariably, they're discovered and punished by spacing.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga has many different planets, using different methods:
    • Uterine Replicator technology is widely used on many planets, as it allows for having children without the inherent risks of pregnancy. Combined with genetic testing and embryo selection this also serves to ensure the birth of healthy, defect-free children or on some planets even Designer Babies.
    • Barrayar is underpopulated, and has unfettered reproduction (though it is somewhat "backward" and considers all sex out of wedlock to be illicit). During the Time of Isolation however, the Barrayarans practiced infanticide of any child possessed of obvious defects or mutations, as they lacked the medical resources to care for any disabled individuals.
    • Beta Colony is a marginally habitable world, and has strict population control. All babies must be licensed, though getting a baby license seems to be about as difficult as getting a driver's license (at least for the first two.) Since contraceptives are legally required for all females (and hermaphrodites), all sex between consenting individuals is considered to be normal recreational behaviour, though they do have statutory rape laws.
    • Athos is underpopulated, but since its entire population is male, it requires Uterine Replicators for anyone to reproduce. The actual cost of raising children to the age where they are self-sufficient is a major part of the planetary government budget, unlike most other planets where it is part of the informal economy. There is a credit system where men earn the right to father children through voluntary civil service. As Athos is gradually terraformed, the population is slowly being allowed to grow, with new reproduction centers getting built as appropriate.
    • The Cetagandan Empire is a group of planets exercising extreme bioengineering, where every child "born" (at least among the Haut class) has its genetic makeup designed by the central government. What is more, it would be possible for the child's parents never to have even met, let alone had sex.
  • Inverted in The World Inside. In the year 2381, most of Earth's 75 billion people live in three-kilometer-high (9,000 feet) "urban monads", where they start their large families around puberty. One man has four children. It is considered shamefully low, but his wife is infertile due to an accident during surgery. He is considering taking another.
  • In A World Out of Time, the State has become a One World Order where Individuality Is Illegal, and only massive fusion-powered desalinators on every shoreline can provide enough fresh water for the massive population. A few generations back, the State instituted compulsory sterilization for all those with harmful genes, both for eugenic reasons, to save money on heath care, and to slow the rapid population growth. No wonder they're so desperate to Terraform.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The 100, the Ark has a one-child policy in order to reduce its population and conserve resources. To this same end, it applies the death penalty towards even the most minor crimes, and if resources are becoming truly scarce, the Ark's government is authorized to start "culling" large swaths of the population. Octavia was actually an illegal birth, leading to her spending her life hiding in floor panels. She is caught the first time she leaves her room, leading to her arrest and her mother's execution.
  • Present on Mars in Babylon 5, and for good reasons: while Mars is being terraformed, it's still impossible to survive outside the pressurized domes, so resources to grow food are limited and the original colonists set up strict birth and immigration controls to synchronize the population expansion with that of the ability to grow food. This is also one of the reasons why Martians don't like Earth Alliance, as in a moment of utter stupidity, the Senate allowed its member nations to deport undesirables to Mars — by the time the Senate realized that they had messed up and revoked the permissions, Mars was already overpopulated and dependent on Earth for food.
  • Inverted in Battlestar Galactica (2003), in which the possibility that couples' reproduction might have to be made mandatory in order to sustain a decimated human species was broached soon after the destruction of the Colonies.
  • Doctor Who: As Worldbuilding in "Frontier in Space", a newsreader announces that the Bureau of Population Control has stated that any family willing to move into the enclosed cities that have just been built in reclaimed Arctic land will be allowed to have two children. While a depiction of an overpopulated or polluted future was almost obligatory in 1970s and '80s Who, clearly Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale, as in this episode Earth is the center of a galactic empire with Casual Interstellar Travel, raising the question of why people don't just emigrate to other worlds.
  • In Fringe, the United States government in the Alternate Universe has proposed a bill that would enact a two-child policy. While most citizens are opposed to the bill, members from two of the three major political parties support it.
  • The Lottery has the government forced to do this in response to a mysterious interruption to the reproductive ability of the human species. The disease, if it is that, is also putting a control by stopping the population from growing any further.
  • Pandora: A remote Human colony has everyone but its elders depart through a portal at age twenty-five to somewhere else, which they claim is good, so the population doesn't grow too high. However, they admit to not actually knowing where this leads. Later it's learned they all die by doing so.
  • SeaQuest DSV has an episode with an island nation where street kids are hunted by death squads as a population control measure, which was almost definitely based off the Marcos government in real life.
  • Silo: Living in a giant underground silo means that romantic relationships have to be sanctioned. Sex for procreation is heavily regulated, and everyone has mandatory birth control. The first scene of the Beckers' married life is them delighted that they have been approved to try for a baby. They have one year afterwards to get pregnant, and because the oppressive Judicial department didn't want them having children, secretly arranged for Allison's birth control implant to not even be removed.
  • Sliders: On one of the worlds the Sliders visit, the population is kept low by heavy marketing of birth control (billboards advertise "Birth Control Cola"), and by ATMs which dispense free money to anyone willing to enter a lottery in which the winner must commit suicide via poison. "Winners" are treated like royalty until their time comes, and the ones the Sliders meet considered it an honor. This is the result of them paying attention to one Reverend Thomas Malthus, who argued that human population growth would always outpace food production. As a result of their ubiquitous reinforcement of birth control, there are only 500 million people in the whole world. One group on this world argues that the Lottery is unnecessary — instead, they advocate better birth control.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Revisions", SG-1 visits a planet where the whole population has been herded into a Domed Hometown, with the rest of the world outside being a Death World similar to Venus. The entire population is also linked to a central computer through neural implants so they can instantly receive new information. When people start disappearing one by one and instantly fade from the collective memory of every other citizen (including the wife of a happily married scientist who chillingly doesn't even know who SG-1 are talking about), it turns out that the computer has been selecting people to sacrifice themselves by leaving the dome because the energy supply of the dome has been decreasing for a while, causing the dome to shrink. At the end SG-1 figures out that the city used to support a population of 100,000; when they first arrive on the planet there are only 1,000 people left.
    • In one episode of Stargate Atlantis, the team visits a world populated only by teenagers and children because every member of the tribe commits suicide at the age of 25. This is also because of an energy shield problem, one that was installed by the Ancients to protect the planet from the Wraith (the Big Bads of the show, who are basically life-sucking space vampires) — only it doesn't cover the whole planet, so the Ancients gave their ancestors instructions on how to manage their population so they wouldn't have to leave the protected area. Atlantis eventually fixes the problem by providing the tribe with a greater power supply.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • In "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", the Oracle chooses everyone's mate for them, to ensure their social harmony, except the High Priestess. She is the only one allowed to choose for herself. It presumably also controls how many are born too, preventing any overpopulation in the ship's limited space.
    • It's also mentioned in "The Mark of Gideon", in which a planet's failure to deal with this leads to ridiculously extreme overcrowding (though no problems with health or resources, apparently). The episode first aired in 1969. Kirk advocates birth control for them and offers to provide contraceptive devices (his stance was very controversial at the time, but seems blatantly obvious to most now).
  • In the 22nd century of Terra Nova, the protagonist is sentenced to six years in prison for having a third child. Fortunately, they don't care about population laws in the virgin frontier of 85 million BC.
  • Utopia Falls: The government decides whether or not people can have children, and they practice eugenics, not allowing people to if their DNA is deemed "unfit". In those cases they're sent to work dangerous jobs such as mining. They justify this on the basis of having limited resources and keeping genetic disease from spreading.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: The Clans practiced this in the Clan Homeworlds. The Homeworlds actually had plenty of untapped resources that could have allowed for plenty of population growth but because there wasn't an immediate military benefit from doing so (and if one did another Clan could potentially swoop in and take it) so they instead imposed limits on civilian populations, going so far as ordering forced sterilizations in some circumstances. Due to the much greater abundance of resources in the Inner Sphere, the invader Clans have since ceased to do so.
  • Blue Planet: The GEO restricts families on Earth to two children in the aftermath of the Blight, a worldwide famine that killed half the world's population.
  • Forgotten Realms:
    • The Drow families are only allowed two sons at any one time, though they can have as many daughters as they like. They sacrifice the third to Lolth, unless one of them conveniently dies beforehand. Drizzt Do'Urden was the third child of his family, but one of his brothers was assassinated shortly after his birth, so they didn't have to sacrifice him. This tradition exists because Lolth herself demands it. She has... issues... with men, to put it lightly.
    • Inverted in another dark elf example, from the old Role Aids third-party Dungeons & Dragons supplement line: In Elves, dark elf society is virtually lawless, except that it's prohibited to kill a female dark elf before she's produced at least two offspring. Backstabbing and feuding would probably wipe out their population if not for this rule.
  • In Hc Svnt Dracones, Corptowns can easily afford to provide free food and housing for their citizens that can't afford it. However, to limit any strain on the corporate welfare system, citizens' income are evaluated every year, and if they fall below a certain bracket, they are surgically sterilized (though this can easily be reversed with their medical technology). It's also not explicitly stated but implied that abortions may be performed as well, as MarsCo can save the genome of a specific fetus that a parent wants but can't afford at the time to clone later.
  • In Mindjammer, the Core Worlds require a license to reproduce, and before the discovery of Planar Drive Old Earth had mandatory euthanasia at the age of 500.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: The camarilla is usually very strict with the population of vampires, so a Vampire must always ask permission from a prince if he wants to transform someone. The punishment for transforming someone without permission is death for both.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • For all its dystopianism, this is actually averted by the Imperium of Man, as rampant population increase is the only thing keeping it going, allowing them to win wars by virtue of outnumbering the enemy by several orders of magnitude. It's also how Space Marine Chapters stay at full strength, with the rate of success of recruiting, indoctrinating and surgically modifying humans being so low.
    • The Tau use a form of population control, in that all pairings are determined by examining genetic potential and then getting the parents to mate. The offspring will not be raised by the parents but the caste-wide educational system (though parents often take an interest). Tau society functions on Happiness in Slavery and mass mind control, hence the lack of outrage from the Tau. The Tau Empire's human population is speculated to be regulated by the Tau; however, this is stated mostly by inherently biased and unreliable Imperial narrators.

    Video Games 
  • The population of the Kaka clan in BlazBlue is kept at 100 by the Applied Phlebotinum that created them. A shortage of males keeps the population count from rising quickly, while parthenogenesis ensures that there will always be at least 100 Kaka.
  • The Combine from Half-Life 2 are more thorough and have a no child per family policy, enforced by suppression fields. By Episode 1, the machine that controls the suppression fields has been destroyed, and Dr. Kleiner broadcasts on hacked channels an encouragement to the remaining humans to procreate.
  • Helldivers II: Super Earth requires that its soldiers fill out a C-1 PERM before engaging in any actions that may result in the birth of a child. This, combined with how poorly equipped the entirety of the SEAF are, implies the constant conflict with the Terminids and Automatons is a massive version of the trope.
  • I Was a Teenage Exocolonist: In order to control the colony's population, having a child requires permission from the Council, and there haven't been any babies born since the Stratospheric landed on Vertumna, with the last one born shortly before the ship passed through the wormhole. If Tammy is saved, she eventually gets pregnant at 19 and gives birth to Echinacea, the first child born on Vertumna.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The quarian Migrant Fleet has to keep tight control of its population due to the limited resources. Tali mentions that they're currently running a one child policy, but also that the limit changes depending on the population and available resources and that there have even been some periods when the population dropped far enough that positive population control was used.
    • Additionally, the turians and salarians forced this upon the Krogan via the Genophage.
    • The salarians themselves engage in a form of this by allowing only ten percent of their eggs to be fertilized. Unfertilized eggs hatch into males while fertilized eggs hatch into females. Females lay eggs at regular intervals, so allowing them to be more than ten percent of the population would lead to a nasty Overpopulation Crisis, as the salarians learned the hard way before they achieved spaceflight.
  • In Stellaris, empires can impose population controls on a species, though not on the empire's founding race, which prevents new POPs of that species from growing in the empire. The "Utopia" DLC also adds species-wide neutering, as a form of Purge.

    Visual Novels 
  • In The Last Birdling, Birdlings keep a careful limit on the number of births in their species, and any couples who have a child without permission are quietly executed. This is because adult Birdlings feed on humans and thus need to keep their numbers low to avoid attracting suspicion and/or overhunting their food supply.

  • A variation in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures: the number of Souls of the Fae is physically limited. When one of them becomes "available", it can be given or auctioned, allowing one to produce offspring. They also sometimes let their soul randomly regenerate, causing, on one occasion, Mab's tea to turn into a baby.
  • The Big Bad emperor of Red All Over orders every third child to be killed upon birth (and by draftees, no less).
  • In Schlock Mercenary, Earth (or rather, the United Nations of Sol) seems to have certain population-control measures set up to prevent undesirable genetic characteristics from spreading to future generations. The only such limit that has been mentioned so far is for the overly moronic (basically, stupid people aren't allowed to have children), but one must assume that other characteristics are likewise limited. Since over-population isn't a problem (plenty of planets to colonize, and space-station colonies to boot), such people can still have children, though — by 'ordering' genetically designed kids at private companies, getting them grown in tanks, and then raising them. Apparently, the Nature-Versus-Nurture debate ended with victory for 'Nature' somewhere along the line.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • China's one-child policy introduced in 1979 (before the policy was instituted, China encouraged births through the 1960s), although there were many loopholes (you could have two kids if you live abroad or, presumably, as many as you want if you emigrated permanently; if both parents were only children; if you've divorced and remarried; or if you're an ethnic minority). Also, money helps. Eventually, China experienced the same "prosperity + improving women's rights = smaller families" formula as had happened in the West starting in the '60s and '70s — by the new millennium the one-child policy largely stood on its own institutional inertia. Combined with an equally inertial culture of misogyny, this led to couples aborting female fetuses and abandoning baby daughters (who often ended up being adopted by Western families) so they could try again for a son. This naturally came back to bite the country in the ass hard, as now China Desperately Needs Women. China moved to a two-child policy in 2016, and then a three-child policy in 2021, but 35 years of the one-child policy has left its mark on China's demographics — according to the CIA, China is tied for the most male under-15 population in the world at 1.17 boys for every girl. To put that in numbers, there are 85 MILLION surplus men.
  • Nazi Germany:
    • They had a variation for German policy. "Pure" Aryans were encouraged to have as many children as possible through public recognition and generous state benefits, while birth control and abortion were outlawed for them. Tens of thousands of others including the children of mixed-race couples (i.e. German and non-ethnic European biological parents, generally African) and those with inheritable physical or mental conditions were forcibly sterilized. Wartime radicalization of policy led to the bulk of the disabled population (70,273 people) being secretly euthanized under the 1939-41 Aktion T-4 program, including 5,000 under 16. Ultimately Hitler seems to have envisaged permitting 2/3 of the German population to reproduce at the very most, seeing the other 1/3 or more as being unfit to ensure the future supremacy of the German nation.
    • The Nazis also had a series of variants for domestic policy outside Germany, particularly in the General Government (Polish) and Reichskomissariat Ostland, Ukraine, Muscowien, and Caucasus (USSR) zones. There would be a short-term 1/4 reduction in the size of the native populations (about 10 million Poles and 50 million Soviets) to make room for ethnic Germans settlers to be installed across the territory. After that, native population levels would be maintained or even decreased through controls on reproduction. Once the German population in those areas was sufficiently large, the remaining natives (by now fewer than 200 million) would be phased out entirely through ethnic cleansing or extermination. Abortions were permitted to non-Aryans (and sometimes forced on them) of course, along with birth control, as one step in realizing this aim.
  • Rather violently inverted in Romania under communist rule. President Nicolae Ceaușescu outlawed abortion, birth control and sex education, and instituted a "celibacy tax" for women who failed to have children, with the goal of increasing the country's population. It worked, but it didn't end well. The generation he created turned out to be the one that overthrew him, ironically, as his government was unable to provide good education and jobs to all of them, leaving young people seriously disaffected. Many also were unsurprisingly unwanted by their parents and abandoned, growing up in state orphanages not doing anything to make them fond of Ceaușescu.
  • Like the SeaQuest DSV example above, the Marcos reign in the Philippines had death squads target street children, mainly after being released from police detention cells.
  • Partially inverted in the time of Louis the Sun King in France, when any family with ten or more children was tax-exempt in order to boost the population for more soldiers a generation down the line.
  • In Vietnam during the 1960s, they had a two-child policy. It was stopped in 2003, although they are considering reviving it.
  • Some regional governments in poorer parts of India have introduced the "honeymoon bonus", offering money to newlyweds who agree not to have children. Also to young men who agree to get vasectomies, even if they aren't married. Like in China, they are beginning to have a gender gap after many selective abortions of female fetuses (despite this being illegal).
  • In Russia, Vladimir Putin's government introduced financial reward schemes to encourage people to have more children. It's unclear to what extent it was responsible (probably not very much), but since then Russia's population has stabilized and is once again growing slowly.
  • A similar system has been implemented in Ukraine, although it has a reduced effect, as the population growth is still negative. This has resulted in many kindergartens shutting down (why keep them open when they make no money?), and any parents requiring to get in line almost as soon as their child is born in order to have a shot at putting their child into one of the remaining ones.
  • Inverted in the New France colony where people were given a reward to have many children.
  • Likewise inverted in Fascist Italy, where women were given medals for having many babies, and soldiers were required to salute pregnant women.
  • Somewhat inverted in the case of the Soviet Union, where there was a tax placed on being a bachelor. While it was not explicitly a natalist measure, the implication was that it would lead to more births. The idea was that anyone who didn't marry and have kids didn't contribute enough to the state and the people. After all, any child is a future worker/peasant loyal to the Party.
  • Although not state-enforced (and is in fact a level of embarrassment to the government), Japan is currently undergoing a self-inflicted state of population control, with its growth rate currently being negative (as in more people die than are being born). In fact, from 2010-2020, 23 countries experienced population decline.
  • Britain has gone back and forth on a fairly low-key inversion by offering tax credits to less wealthy couples with young children and recently a tax credit for getting married, presumably to appease the traditionalist wing of the Conservative Party after the legalization of gay marriage. The cost of living is doing a pretty good job of playing the trope straight, incidentally; if not for the import of surplus workers from some of the newer EU members Britain might be in the same boat as Japan.
  • Australia's "Populate or Perish" policy after World War II, as a response to the Yellow Peril. While a rise in the birthrate was encouraged, the main emphasis was on immigration as it would increase the population quicker. This was white immigration, naturally.
  • Hungary has a pro-natal policy in place. Families with four or more children are exempt from income tax for life.
  • In a rare privatized inversion, Canadian lawyer, financier, and inveterate practical joker Charles Vance Millar played one last prank on his native city, when he left much of his fortune to whichever Toronto woman produced the most children in the decade after his death. This unorthodox proviso was judged legally valid by the Supreme Court of Canada, and the resulting "Great Stork Derby" (1926-1936) was jointly won by four mothers who'd produced nine children each.