Thursday, June 16, 2011

Demographic Winter

Have we talked about Demographic Winter? There are two videos, one by that name and a second, Demographic Bomb, by the same producers, about the worldwide worry that we don’t have enough children being born. The video trailers are worth seeing. 

Here are the basics, if you’re not up to speed. Replacement rate is 2.1 children per female. Most of the industrialized countries in the world (and also many of the less advanced countries as well) have below replacement levels. The US is approximately right at replacement rates—but only because of immigrants with larger families. The non-immigrant population is at about 1.7. 

I reread an article recently (it’s from United Families International, from May 2010) that did the math, using Greece’s 2008 population of 11,237.074. If you consider that a generation is about 27 year, and you have a fertility rate of 1.4 (Greece’s is actually 1.37), then you’ll lose a third of the population every generation: 

Generation 1               11,237,094 – 3,745,698 = 7.491,396

Generation 2                 7,491,396 – 2,497,132 = 4,994,264

Generation 3                 4,994,264 – 1,664,755 – 3, 329,509 

So in a little over half a century the population is likely to declined to under 30% of it’s current population. Without disease or war. Voluntarily. 

The cutoff seems to be a fertility rate of 1.4. In the history of the world, no population has ever recovered once hitting that level. Right now the following are at, near, or below that level: 

United Kingdom         1.66
Portugal                      1.49
Austria                        1.42
Russia                         1.34
Spain                          1.31
Japan                          1.27
Czech Rep.                 1.24
South Korea               1.21
Hong Kong                0.97 

There’s a graphic I need to show you, about how this involves economics. [I'm using my trusty white board, just like homeschool.] The population as a whole consists of producers and nonproducers. Typically these are related to generation. Children are nonproducers that must be supported by producers. The elderly and infirm are nonproducers that must be supported by producers insofar as they can’t support themselves from income left over from their producing period.

A healthy growing population is shaped like the diagram below. Producers are plentiful to take care of the elderly, and there are enough children to replace the producers as they age.

But the typical population shape for a declining population looks like this below. The elderly is the most sizable demographic. Producers are hard-pressed to take care of them. And the even smaller population of children is going to find it even harder to take care of not only themselves but that growing aging population.

A friend of mine who has been involved in family issues worldwide since the mid-1990s first let me know about this issue. He was with his family on a trip to Italy at one point, and they went to, I think, Disney World there. There was an exhibit that talked about the demographic problems in that country, and some of the solutions. Italy isn’t on the list above, but I believe it’s under 1.4, like many EU countries, and parts of it are significantly lower—where they pay people to have babies or give people bonuses to come there following their education to live. The presentation talked about the difficulty of producers supplying the needs of the elderly, and my friend was thinking—the obvious solution is to encourage more births. But that’s not what they said—instead they encouraged more women to join the workforce. Women in the workforce must, of necessity (with very few exceptions) have fewer children than they would or could have as stay-at-home mothers. 

So is the problem likely to solve itself when people wake up and realize they have a problem and then start having more children? Historically no.  

One of the hallmarks of a thriving civilization is valuing the family and prizing children. If that is not where we are, then we need to change—before it’s too late.

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