demography

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A Short Demography Lesson

Birthrates continue to fall all over the world; in Europe they are well below the replacement level. There has been so much population bomb propaganda over the past generation that many people regard this as a good development. Yglesias (tip to Ross Douthat) writes

Less clear to me is why so many people seem concerned by the specter of low birth rates. Historically, low levels of population are associated with high average living standards. That should be less true in the modern world where we’re not as dependent on agriculture for our economic activity. But the logic hasn’t completely vanished. If there were dramatically fewer people in the United States it would be much more realistic for us to all be eating free-range organic grass-fed beef. And even amidst a real estate bust, the country is far too crowded for a middle class family to afford a spacious residence in the most desirable markets such as San Francisco or Manhattan.

There are two inescapable problems with a declining birthrate:

The infrastructure of a city or country is built for a certain population. As the population falls, the infrastructure is too big. In Eastern Germany, sewer systems have stopped function because there is not enough use; rail lines are being abandoned, whole neighborhoods demolished, factories are unneeded, etc.

More importantly, a declining birthrate change s the age structure of a population. The Black Death killed people of all age levels and did not change the age structure of a society; a low birth rate means a rapidly declining AND aging population. A one child birthrate means that hour grandparents are followed by two children and one grandchild. The smaller childhood non-working population is outnumbered by the elderly non-working population. Already in Hungary four million workers support three million pensioners. Whether by private or public means, the retired generation is supported by the working age population, which will shrink and shrink. The cost of supporting retirees will further discourage the working-age population for having children, and the downward spiral reinforces itself.

These are the inescapable problems. There can be other problems depending on historical circumstances. When there are differential birthrates in a society, when one group is out-reproducing the other, severe problems can result. Lebanon was torn apart by war when the Muslim population became the majority because the Christian population, influenced by the French, had smaller families. Israel faces a majority-Arab population because the Arabs have more children than Jews do; and in many European cities Moslem children area already the majority of the school-age population. The Serbs lost Kosovo to the ethnic Albanians because the Albanians had children and the Serbs did not; ethnic Slovakians face a near future in which Gypsies may be the majority, for the same reason.

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A Demographic Bounce in Germany

Allan Carlson has emphasized that a government can’t buy a higher birthrate. Generous family allowances may encourage couples to have their children earlier in life, but the ultimate birthrate is not affected.

This seems to have happened in Germany. The German government is concerned about the abysmal birthrate in Germany and increased family allowances. Der Spiegel reports

A drop in the number of births in Germany during the months of October and November suggests there may have been a birth rate decline in the country during 2008, despite lavish government benefits for new parents.

For months, it looked like Germany might have put a stop to its shrinking birth rate. Indeed, in 2007, the country actually managed a bit of population growth. And, with a fast graying population that will be knocking on the door of the local pension office in the next few decades, it was high time, too.

But a reversal of Germany’s demographic fortunes has proven to be a mirage.

Birth rates reflect confidence in the future, and ultimately some sort of faith in Providence. Economic hard times will further de[press the birth rate and increase the burden of pensions, which in turn will lower the income of workers, leading to a lower birth rate, and so on. Euthanasia or massive immigration are the obvious solutions; Holland has already adopted the former to control health care costs.

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An Aging World

The facts of demographic decline are starting to sink in. The working age population is already declining in some countries, according to a column in the Washington Post: 

Aging is, well, old. But depopulation — the delayed result of falling birthrates — is new. The working-age population has already begun to decline in several large developed countries, including Germany and Japan. By 2030, it will be declining in nearly all of them, and in a growing number, total population will be in steep decline as well. The arithmetic is simple: When the average couple has only 1.3 children (in Spain) or 1.7 children (in Britain), depopulation is inevitable, unless there’s massive immigration. 

Even poorer countries like China and Cuba are facing a upresebdent decline in working populations.

 

The exception is, as usual, the United States: 

An important but limited exception to hyperaging is the United States. Yes, America is also graying, but to a lesser extent. We are the only developed nation with replacement-rate fertility (2.1 children per couple). By 2030, our median age, now 36, will rise to only 39. Our working-age population, according to both U.N. and census projections, will continue to grow throughout the 21st century because of our higher fertility rate and substantial immigration — which we assimilate better than most other developed countries. By 2015, for the first time ever, the majority of developed-world citizens will live in English-speaking countries. 

The relative population dynamism and its high level of religious practice seem to be connected, but the question is what comes first. Do religious people have more children because they trust Providence, or does having children make parents face the mysteries of life and of death?

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Disappearing Canadian Children

The National Post reports

Canada’s under-15 population fell by almost 146,000 or 2.5% between 2001 and 2006, the latest census figures show, and is now sitting at 5.6 million.

Just after the height of the baby boom in 1961, more than one-third of the Canadian population (34%) was under 15-years-old, but by 2006, declining birth rates meant less than 18% fit into that youthful age group. Statistics Canada projects the 65-plus population could outnumber children within 10 years.

Schools are worried, but universities blithely continue expansion plans, ignoring the approaching bust (sound familiar). 

But toy manufactures aren’t too worried. Canadian adults, like American adults, don’t want to grow up:

With toys marketed toward a variety of age groups and classic board games that appeal both to nostalgic parents and their video game-accustomed offspring, Hasbro is diversifying beyond the children’s market, according to Sandy Sinclair, senior vice-president of marketing for the toy giant’s Canadian division. There’s also a significant and growing market for nostalgic and collectible toys for grown-up kids, she says, including GI Joe,StarWars, My Little Pony and Transformers.

The failure of adults to accept being adults and the lack of children may be closely related. Having children means accepting adult responsibilities and the reality that sooner or later you will be gone and they will replace you in the world.

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