Population Implosion & Falling Birthrates
Steven E. Smoot
Family First Foundation, President
One of the most ominous dramas of modern times is quietly unfolding. Below replacement fertility rates in many countries and the decline of the natural family are leading us to a demographic "tipping point" which threatens catastrophic consequences.
Sociologists, demographers, and economists around the world agree that we are headed towards a "Demographic Winter". The economic and social effects of this decline are severe and long lasting, and are already apparent in much of Europe.
Phil Longman, a Washington D.C. demographer and author of the book "The Empty Cradle" said:"Global decline in human birthrates is the single most powerful force affecting the fate and the future of society in the 21st century."
A new documentary entitled "Demographic Winter the decline of the human family", is an academic and educational documentary on the social and economic effect that below replacement fertility is having on the global economy. The documentary trailer can be viewed on the Internet at www.demographicwinter.com.
"Demographic Winter: ...the decline of the human family" is destined to change the dialogue and debate over what is the most pressing social issue facing society today.
The "Demographic Winter" documentary shows that children are the lifeblood and human capital needed for growth and economic prosperity. Statistical and technical analysis shows that population growth fuels economic growth. Consistent and sustained population growth is essential in order for a country to continue to prosper. When the age demographics of a country is out of balance, and their are to many older people versus younger age workers it thrusts a country into a Demographic Winter which results in chilling economic consequences.
Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker said, "The economics of the world will continue to contract as human capital diminishes. Industry will be strained as workers fail to replace themselves and are burdened by the need to support an aging population."
Countries that recognize that children pay demographic dividends and are the human capital needed for a functioning and prosperous economy are countries that will prosper in the centuries to come. It is estimated that there are now 59 countries around the world that are experiencing below replacement fertility. The United Nations estimates show that if current trends continue, by 2050 there will be 248 million fewer children under the age of 5 than there are today.
Russia is one of the first countries to be hit hard by this "Demographic Winter". Russia, with a population of approximately 145 million people is about 1/10 of India’s population, yet it controls the largest demographic area of any country. Russia’s population today is dropping by over 700,000 a year. Dr.Viktor Medkov, a demographer and economist from Moscow University has estimated that Russia will lose half of their population in 43 years if current trends continue. Russia’s fertility rate has drastically decreased over the years and is now less then 1.2 children per couple, whereas it takes 2.1 children to replace the parent generation. Russia’s death rate is also younger then most of Europe with Russian men dying earlier than most of the world as a result of their heavy consumption of drugs and alcohol. Other factors contributing to this rapid decline in population is that Russian younger women are increasingly looking for out migration opportunities and studies estimate that over half of children conceived are aborted.
Over the next two decades it is estimated that for every working person entering into the work force in Russia there will be a person starting to draw on a pension. A one to one ratio for support of the elderly is a disastrous formula for any economy.
In an effort to encourage women to have more babies, the government of Russia has built in new incentives: besides offering substantial monetary rewards for a second child, the government has passed laws that offer a woman 40% of her salary for a year for maternity leave. But, in a secular nation like Russia these financial incentives are having little success.
The rest of Europe is on course with Russia with their dearth of children at an average birthrate of only 1.3 children per couple and a rapidly aging population. Low fertility birth rates and the disintegration of the traditional family are having a chilling economic and social consequence.
A great example from recent history shows what happens to a nation’s economy when below replacement fertility becomes the norm can be observed in Japan:
After WWII, Japan did not have a baby boom after the war like America did. The women, after their wartime effort, continued in the workforce to build up their country from the ashes of war. The Japanese economy grew to be one of the most envied economies in the world; they enjoyed amazing, unprecedented economic growth through the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. This economic prosperity continued for two decades until their dearth of children started to drastically weigh down economic growth. Today Japan’s stock market (Nikkei) is just starting to move higher after its 15-year peak. From 1990 through 2005 their stock market saw an 80% fall from its high. But the stock market was not the only market that was hit hard; the Japanese real estate market also lost 60% of its value.
So what happens when the only reason for growth is that the old are living longer? What happens when fewer children become the working adults who must carry the financial and tax burden needed to support a growing elderly population?
How does a country like China with a "One Child Policy" ever expect that from one child they can produce enough income and taxes to pay for two parents and four grandparents? Figuratively speaking, it does not work to have only one child pulling the wagon when the child’s two parents and four grandparents need to ride as they enter their retirement years.
Harry S. Dent, a revered economist, in his 1993 book entitled "The Great Boom Ahead" gave a forecast of unprecedented economic growth of the U.S. economy by the use of demographic analysis. In this book, he asked the question: "What really drives the economy?" His answer, "consumers do" because seventy percent (70%) of the United States GNP is driven by individual consumer spending. He went on to say that in 1993 the U.S. was moving into the greatest economic boom in history, not because of anything government, industry or what individuals are planning to do, but because of fundamental trends already set in motion by the baby boom generation. The effects of the largest generation of births in U.S. history, as they arrived at a peak in their earning and spending wave, has fueled the economy and taken the stock market to new heights. But what will happen when this huge 81 million baby boom generation spending starts to decline as the baby boomers enter into retirement and start drawing down on their long awaited Social Security? Economist and mathematicians are predicting that U.S. federal taxes will have to double in order to pay for the baby boomers retirement. Even though the United States birth rates are at a replacement level, the United States will be having their own demographic winter. The demographic models just do not work. There are simply not enough younger people to support the eighty one million baby boomers that are beginning to enter retirement and are now starting to draw on Social Security.
Phil Longman, a Washington, D.C. demographer, stated in his book" the "Empty Cradle" "Through the broad sweep of human history there are many examples of classes of people who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, sub-replacement fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Like today’s modern well-fed nations, both ancient Greece and Rome eventually found that their elites had lost interest in the often-dreary chores of family life. As Polybius, a Greek historian who lived about 140 B.C, lamenting the fate of his country as it gave way to the Roman domination wrote, " In our time, all Greece was visited by a dearth of children and general decay of population…This evil grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting attention, by our men becoming perverted to the passion for show and money and the pleasures of an idle life."
Over the last century, the media, our schools and universities have consistently taught children that a growing population is bad for the environment and society. It has not been politically correct for politicians, teachers or professors to talk about the importance of population growth. For interwoven into the tapestry of human history is the fabric of academic thought that believes the food supply cannot keep pace with world population growth. Social engineers, environmentalists and politicians refer to this as "The Unsustainability Problem." This elite viewpoint that this planet cannot sustain future population growth is a claim that has been echoed throughout history by social engineers, environmentalists and politicians.
Thomas Malthus, the English economist who wrote and published a 1798 essay entitled "The Principles of Population" gave as it’s central idea that food production could not keep pace with population growth. The claim that food production can not keep pace with population growth was made famous once again around the world by Paul R. Ehrlich in his 1968 bestseller book "The Population Bomb." In that book, Ehrlich claimed that in the 1970’s and 1980’s hundreds of millions of people would starve to death due to overpopulation and the lack of food resources to sustain them. However, history has shown that with human ingenuity and new technology, food production can keep pace with the world’s growing population.
Even as Ehrlich was making many absurd and unrealized prophecies of global starvation, Norman Borlaug, an American agricultural scientist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, was developing high yield disease-resistant wheat varieties that would greatly increase the world’s wheat production. In 1965 through 1970 Dr.Borlaug introduced this seed to Pakistan and India. In Pakistan wheat yields nearly doubled, from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 7.3 million tons in 1970; Pakistan was self–sufficient in wheat production by 1968. Yields were over 21 million tons by 2000.
In India, yields increased from 12.3 million tons in 1965 to 20.1 million tons in 1970, and by 1974 India was self sufficient in the production of all cereals. By 2000, India was harvesting a record 76.4 million tons of wheat, greatly outpacing their rate of population growth. Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment station calculates that India’s use of high-yield farming has prevented 100 million acres (400,000 km2) of virgin land from being converted into farmland.
In 2005 Dr. Borlaug speaking to the Murugappa Group said, "Only 17% of the cultivated land produces 90% of the world’s food crops." If we can just increase the yield on the remaining 83% of land presently under cultivation then we can greatly multiply the world’s food supply. Mathematically speaking it begs the question: if we can increase the yield on the 83% of land presently under cultivation, and add additional land not presently under cultivation, (given that it is estimated that less than 5% of the world’s land surface is presently under crop cultivation.) Surely, with today’s science and technology and with a little human initiative and ingenuity mankind can produce food enough to feed the world’s children for millenniums to come.
History has shown that as population increases so does the stock of human ingenuity. As population grows it creates pressure on resources and people become more innovative. Even with today’s technology history has shown that we can keep pace with today’s projected population growth for many generations to come. Population growth fuels economic growth and children do provide the future hope for every society around the world.
Many people assume that soaring birthrates are the primary cause for the growth and over crowding of our cities around the world. But, worldwide demographic analysis shows that birth rates have declined by 50% over the last 50 years. Most all developed countries of the world are now showing below replacement fertility. The decline of the traditional family unit has led to a decline in the number of family farms and a massive migration from rural to urban. In 1930 25% of the U.S. population lived on farms. Today less then 2% live on farms and it is estimated that half of the remaining family farms will cease to exist in 15 years.
With the dearth of children around the world and the many public policies that are detrimental to generational family farms, there is little attraction to stay and live in rural farming communities if you do not have children or grandchildren, brothers, sisters, and cousins, uncles and aunts to work and socialize with.
In every developed country around the world that is experiencing below replacement fertility there is a massive migration from rural to urban. Even China after the implementation of the "One Child Policy" have witnessed a mass migration of an estimated 98 million who have joined the ranks as city dwellers. Around the world people are continually complaining about over- crowding. With the mass migration and urbanization, our cities are becoming larger. In 1950 there were just eight mega-cities over 5 million. By 2015 there will be 59 mega cities over 5 million. Today 48% of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2030 that figure will grow to 60%. In North America this urbanization is the highest at 79% according to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2004 world population data sheet.
The primary reason for the overcrowding of our cities is not a result of an increase in birthrates, but a result of urbanization, a massive migration from the rural to urban.
Today environmentalists prophecy of a gloomy future for children with the potential melting down of the polar ice caps, the ozone layer and the potential meltdown of nuclear reactors that dot our globe, but today’s greatest and more immediate threat to children, families and countries around the world is the meltdown of the natural family and its effect on the global economy.
If the decline of the family and below replacement fertility continues to be left unchecked and ignored by most world leaders, academia and media, it will result in catastrophic consequences of social decay, civil unrest and economic strife.
Don Feder an author and syndicated columnist said, "This is the most important message facing humanity today. "Why? Because it addresses the core of issues that will affect society, children and family for generations to come. It is not that we need to talk about it, it is that we have to talk about it."
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, "the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to the widest possible protection and assistance." The family unit is fundamental in providing replacement children for future generations. Before society re-defines marriage and family shouldn’t society first conduct comprehensive studies to determine the long-term impact that new laws, policies and programs will have on children, family and society.
There is a huge collective benefit that all people enjoy through the strengthening of the natural family.Throughout human history, the family has been civilizations most fundamental and enduring institution. Will society act now to strengthen and fortify the family, or will countries sit silent as laws, policies and programs launched years ago continue to disintegrate society’s most fundamental institution: the family?