Overpopulated of Olderpopulated? A Consideration of Some Suprising New Demographic Trends

I was alerted to a fascinating and alarming article on demographic trends that shows forth several significant trends: a globally aging population (not just in the West), the wide scale decline of the nuclear family, and the continued growth of mega cities. One of the most surprising assertions in the article is that many of the trends we have attributed to the increasingly decadent West, are becoming far more worldwide even to include the Muslim and African worlds.  Of course we must remember that demographics often look at current trends and project them out into the future. As the article itself points out, trends do not always continue unabated. Nevertheless we do well to observe current trends since they can actually help us to address them and alter their otherwise inevitable consequences.

Lets take a look at the article written by Phillip Longman. I am presenting excerpts, but the full article is available here: The World Will Be More Crowded, With Old People In what follows, the excerpts from the article are in bold, black, italics and my own comments are in plain red text.

What demography tells us is this: The human population will continue to grow, though in a very different way from in the past. The United Nations’ most recent “mid-range” projection calls for an increase to 8 billion people by 2025 and to 10.1 billion by century’s end.

I am aware that some other demographers disagree with this, seeing an implosion of sorts on the way. They argue that the U.N. has polemical reasons for forecasting such a large increase in population, since it will give greater urgency to its population control projects encouraging abortion, contraception and sterilization. For the purposes of my comments on this article I don’t want to get into that accusation here, though I largely suspect there may be some truth to it, at least at the margins.

[But] the U.N. projects that over the next 40 years, more than half (58 percent), of the world’s population growth will come from increases in the number of people over 60, while only 6 percent will come from people under 30. Indeed, the U.N. projects that by 2025, the population of children under 5, already in steep decline in most developed countries, will be falling globally — and that’s even after assuming a substantial rebound in birth rates in the developing world. A gray tsunami will be sweeping the planet.

Here note the word “globally.” Low birth rates have been the characteristic of the Western, developed world. But now it would seem that these trends are spreading even in to parts of the Muslim world, as we shall see.

Which countries will be aging most rapidly in 2025? They won’t be in Europe, where birth rates fell comparatively gradually and now show some signs of ticking up. (Mirable dictu!) Instead, they’ll be places like Iran and Mexico, which experienced youth bulges that were followed quickly by a collapse in birth rates. In just 35 years, both Iran and Mexico will have a larger percentage of their populations over 60 than France does today. Other places with birth rates now below replacement levels include not just old Europe but also developing countries such as Brazil, Chile, China, Lebanon, Tunisia, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Again, this will be true if current trends continue. For now, they seem to have every indication that they will. As for Europe, I have read some encouraging articles that certain countries, especially France, have begun to turn things around, with a birth rate edging above replacement level for the first time in decades.

Because of the phenomenon of hyper-aging in the developing world, another great variable is already changing as well: migration. In Mexico, for example, the population of children age 4 and under was 434,000 less in 2010 than it was in 1996. The result? The demographic momentum that fueled huge flows of Mexican migration to the United States has waned, and will wane much more in the future. Already, the net flow of illegal Mexican immigration northward has slowed to a trickle. With fewer children to support and not yet burdened by a huge surge of elders, the Mexican economy is doing much better than in the past, giving people less reason to leave. By 2025, young people on both sides of the border may struggle to understand why their parents’ generation built this huge fence.

Yes, here would seem to be a rather under-reported story. To the degree I have heard in the media that illegal immigration has slowed, I have heard it attributed only the failing US economy, not to a drop in birth rates in Mexico. I will say that I doubt that the Mexican economy has improved due to a lower birthrate. I am willing to admit that it may be temporarily true. But I am with Ronald Regan who said that growing population is ultimately a good engine to grow the  economy. For that reason he was more sanguine about the illegal immigrants of his day, and was willing to grant them amnesty.

Despite these trends, most people conclude from their day-to-day lives that overpopulation is a serious problem. One reason is that more than half the world’s population is crowded into urban areas. The high cost of raising children in mega-cities is a prime reason that global birth rates continue to fall, yet urbanization also makes the larger trend toward depopulation difficult for most to grasp. If the downward trend in birth rates doesn’t moderate and stabilize as the U.N. assumes it will, the world as a whole could be losing population as soon as midcentury. And yet few people will likely see that turning point coming, so long as humans continue to pack into urban areas and increase their consumption of just about everything.

This is the demographic equivalent of “all politics is local.” It is hard to see a decline, or even a leveling off of population when you’re sitting in the worst traffic ever in your growing city. National and worldly trends of lower birth rates mean little to someone in an Eastern Megalopolis.  But go to more rural places in the upper Midwest and the picture is different. I remember that back in the 1980s many rural towns in the upper Midwest were offering free land to people from other parts of the world to come and settle there. Generally, the flocking of people to the mega cities on the coasts has been a hundred year trend here in the US and it surely creates a picture of heavy overpopulation, even if the numbers are more modest with the physical footprint of humans on the planet is really no more than the state of Texas with people living four to home on an eighth of an acre.

Another related megatrend is the rapid change in the size, structure, and nature of the family. In many countries, such as Germany, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, the one-child family is now becoming the norm. This trend creates a society in which not only do most people have no siblings, but also no aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, or nephews. Many will lack children of their own as well. Today about one in five people in advanced Western countries, including the United States, remains childless. Huge portions of the world’s population will thus have no biological relatives except their parents.

This is quite sad and shocking. It is not hard to see the awful impact that the demise of the nuclear  and extended family has had on the formation of children here in America. And to see this trend spreading from the West to other cultures and countries is a harbinger of a lot of pain, children more poorly formed and prone to many social ills. Neither nature nor God intends single parent families as a norm for a culture. And with the demise of the extended family, there isn’t even anyone on the bench to step in for a lost parent. In the end it is children who suffer. And, as they become adults, they bring their brokenness to affect others in a descending chain.

And even where children continue to be born, they are being raised under radically different circumstances, as country after country has seen divorce and out-of-wedlock births surge and the percentage of children living with both of their married parents drop sharply. So not only is the quantity of children in the world poised to shrink rapidly, but on current trends, a near majority of them will be raised in ways that are today strongly associated with negative life outcomes. Exactly

Are there signs of any of these trends reversing before 2025? Only a few. The percentage of the world’s population raised in religious households is bound to rise, if only because adherents to fundamentalism, whether Christians, Jews, or Muslims, tend to have substantially more children than their secular counterparts. And there are certainly many ways — from increased automation and delayed retirement to health-care reform to the provision of baby bonuses — for societies to at least partially adjust to the tidal shift in global demographics.

Yes, we can hope, but none of these seem to be mega trends. As the number of religiously active continues to drop as a percentage, their larger families may have a marginal impact, but probably not a mega-impact.

OK, remember there is a lot of speculation when it comes to trends and how steady they will be into the future. To a certain extent, just the fact that we are talking about them, influences these very trends. But this article cuts across certain presumptions that I myself have presented on these very blog pages. Namely, that the Islamic world, and also the (so-called) “Third World” is on the ascendency (demographically) and the West is committing suicide. This article, and to some extent the data, suggest that such presumptions may need adjusting.

As always, I am interested in your comments.

Painting: The Crowded City by Kerry Belgrave

Here is a scene from Star Trek which presents the standard “nightmare scenario” of overpopulation which was a steady diet for school kids like me in the 1960s. We were warned of grave overcrowding if “proper measures” were not insisted on. In this clip, as a planet so overcrowded that there is no place even to sit, appears in the background, Kirk lectures the leaders on using birth control measures. It is a perfect snapshot of the late 1960s.

14 Replies to “Overpopulated of Olderpopulated? A Consideration of Some Suprising New Demographic Trends”

  1. “… over the next 40 years, more than half (58 percent), of the world’s population growth will come from increases in the number of people over 60…”

    This assumes that the young don’t start killing the old. In a utilitarian, self-obsessed world without absolute truths the old have little value. It may be indirect, such as by rationing healthcare and reducing handouts, or it could be more direct. One wouldn’t have imagined the direct approach thinkable, but abortion has shown the depths of our capacity to dehumanize and exterminate classes of humans we don’t want around. Kyrie eleison.

  2. The remedies are clear for the worldy: Populate the world with young people by increased fornication and adultery and legalized polygamy; depopulate the world of old people by legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide and prevent patients of old age from receiving medical care; legalize human cloning so people can be immortal; and make sure abortions are promoted to prevent unwanted birth, contraceptives are promoted to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and homosexual marriage is promoted so some people don’t feel left out in the world of sex and other people can adopt abandoned and divorced children so they don’t live without parents.

    None of which would actually address the problem, which is the culture of death. But the worldly can’t bother with changing themselves, nor can they bother with agreeing with the Catholic Church’s teachings on human love.

    1. Disturbing… clearly disturbing! The two previous posts are accurately articulated! I think the good Msgr. needs a spot on the evening news!

  3. Msgr. Pope, wouldn’t be so hopeful about Europe. Any rise in population is undoubtedly due to large numbers of Muslim immigrants who are often very hostile to their host cultures and to Christianity. If you visit any major European city, you’ll see who’s pushing the babies in the strollers. Look up “zones urbaines sensibles”, or demographic info on Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin, Marseille, etc. There’s actually a concerted effort to claim Europe for Islam through demographic invasion, and the president of Turkey openly states this as an eventual goal. When I was living in Germany, I remember hearing on the news that 1 in 3 children under 5 in the kindergartens had a “Migrationshintergrund”, granted, this also includes the Serbs, Russians, Italians, Vietnamese, etc. who have integrated very nicely and who may actually be some of the only practicing Christians there, but the vast majority are Turks and Arabs, who are more often than not fiercely Muslim.

    I’m not saying this to put down Muslims, but rather Europeans. If they lose their cultures, they have no one to blame but themselves. The demographic shift is already final, and those cultures are truly dead. Who can survive such explosive shifts in just a few decades? (Rotterdam, for example, is now almost 20% Muslim with a Moroccan mayor who has dual citizenship – 40 years ago they were all Dutch). The Europeans are contracepting themselves into oblivion, and not only that, but they seem to have a curious self-hatred and belief in “tolerance” at all costs.

    But I would bet everything I have that any uptick in population growth is due to immigration from the Middle East and not because the Europeans have bothered to start getting married and raising families. I think something like more than 30% of German women remain childless throughout life – and they ain’t nuns, that’s for sure.

    1. Well I suppose by “hopeful” you actually mean “optimistic” The improved numbers cited are for non-Muslim Europeans. While I’m not naive that Europe remains in serious trouble, still + is better than –

      1. Wow,the numbers really are for natives? Are you sure they’re not counting Muslims born in the country or Muslims with citizenship as “natives”? They do that often in the news: “A British man from South London has killed two of his daughters for dishonouring the family name, authorities say” / “Two Swedish men have beaten a Jewish man to a pulp outside of Malmö’s largest synagogue.” That’s a lovely P.C. news trick.

        Again, I am not doubting foreigners’ ability to assimilate (like I mentioned, Russians, Portuguese, Vietnamese, etc. seem to do just fine, and I even had some Turkish friends in Germany), just that people from certain cultures seem to be very hostile to their host culture in much higher percentages than others.

        I’m amazed that there is any improvement in birth rates – I wonder what could be causing it?

        1. I can only offer anecdote, but during my short time in Paris, I saw so many children. Every couple seemed to have a baby carriage, and often another child walking alongside. Talking with colleagues, it seems as though having three children is very fashionable and responsible, and there is a great drive toward the traditional two-parent family (and a fair amount of pressure against gay marriage). There are many social programs in France that are based on the number of children you have and whether you are married. A scientific fellowship often pays an extra 500 euros a month to married couples, 1000 euros a month to married couples with a child. France is over-all socially conservative: I remember getting into a debate with a French communist about why he thinks gay marriage would destroy the family and thus French culture. It is right now a very family-friendly place.

          1. That may well be true for much of France, especially the countryside. And if you go to Bavaria or some other parts of Germany, it may also be the case. But I know that in Germany at least, especially in the big cities, secular-liberalism is a religion, and people tend to vote for political parties that openly attack religion, the family, and any semblance of morality. The very popular Greens, for example, would like to lower the age of consent for sexual relations with minors, and the Left (the party that built the Berlin Wall and still defends this act) often openly say they want to abolish the German people.

            You’re right that European countries make incentives for procreation, but the incentives also apply to immigrant families who do not work and who have six or seven children. Some community leaders even encourage people not to work.

            It was living in Europe that opened my eyes about why the Church is right about contraception and premarital chastity. Europeans have managed to destroy themselves in a way that not even WW2 was able to do.

    2. “I’m not saying this to put down Muslims, but rather Europeans. If they lose their cultures, they have no one to blame but themselves. The demographic shift is already final, and those cultures are truly dead.”

      Cultures are not static; they change over time. This is neither good nor bad, per se, just a fact. One can argue that US culture is better now than in the 1950s (we recognize fully that African Americans are people) or worse (abortion, etc.) People don’t “own” culture – so they cannot “lose” it. They shape it and are shaped by it. Neither do national cultures “belong” to particular ethnic or racial groups. Europe has always had people of diverse faiths. A Muslim can be a “native” of Europe (I presume you use “native” to mean born and a citizen of? Do you have any comments of views on the couple million Muslim “natives” in our own country?

      This kind of static, ethno-centric view of culture should have no place in our discussions of God’s creation.

      1. Jeff – but it IS good or bad, just not in all aspects. I would like to know what empty churches and full mosques have to their advantage, or a European culture that is so multiculti it’s afraid to make laws requiring people to know the local language. Or vastly more anti-Semitic crimes than at any time since WW2, or the president of Turkey calling on his “people” to subdue the West.

        And by “native” I am not referring simply to birth. I like Italian food, but it’s not native to Baton Rouge. And yes, over time we tend to think of things in different ways – we think of chocolate as native to Switzerland or peppers as native to India, tomatoes to Italy. Please tell me how random beating by “youths” are enriching anyone. Look at the stats for Germany, for other countries – there has been a steady and positive blending of various European and Asian cultures, and most people are very happy with that. We are all the children of immigrants in this country. But no, I do not think that Islam gaining prominence anywhere is a good thing, unless those Muslims are being prepared for conversion, or they wake up the Christians from their slumber.

        But we are talking about massive, massive change in a very short amount of time. And was Pius V being ethnocentric when he established the feast of our Lady of the Rosary in thanksgiving for victory at Lepanto? What about when the Viennese celebrated the victory of 1683? They don;t do it anymore because it wouldn’t be PC (Though the Turks still celebrate the “Conquest of Istanbul”).

        Blind tolerance is not the same as understanding. Of course, like I said, the Muslims are just doing what Muslims do – it’s the Europeans who have changed, who no longer care for God or their own history, or even the future of their own children, when they can be bothered to have them.

    3. Don’t forget that Mohammad is the number one name for boys in Netherlands and on the rise everywhere else in Europe.

  4. Always like telling the population controlling anti-human people to look out a window of an airplane next time they are in flight & see how much space we have to use. What is the stat? Every person in the globe could fit in state of Texas & still have some space to move?

    1. Dear Steve C.,

      The problem is not really of ‘space’ per se. I have looked out of the window of an airplane and have seen vast stretches of uninhabitable northern sections of Canada and Greenland. Few people live there because it’s not appropriate for large numbers of persons living in permanent dwellings. They are appropriate for smaller numbers of people who live in nomadic or semi-nomadic groups.

      That the world’s population could all squeeze into Texas doesn’t really answer the question of how they would get the food and other resources that they either actually need or feel that they need. People who are concerned about over-population (and I admit to being part of this group) are often concerned that the amount of Consumption per person be a significant factor in the calculation of what population the Earth can bear without suffering irreparable harm. If we all consume less per person, the more people the Earth can support.

      In fact, the over-population concern can easily be translated into a very life-loving desire to step lightly on the planet in the many ways that environmentalists and proponents of simple living have suggested for years.

  5. I do not expect a reply. I waited until this ‘Homily’ – stopped receiving comments. Thank you for being a Priest, Monsignor.

    “Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days.” More than 25 years ago, I heard a protestant on late night radio say, ‘God, in his Mercy, in the -end times- will close off the wombs before his return.’ Obviously, it has stuck with me all these years. The man was very good concerning abortion. He opposed it, as he said, ‘Children are a Blessing from God.’ He also went through Genesis = Egyptian & Jewish children + flocks of Abraham.

    When I read about the declining birth rate, the program comes back to me. A Priest (with his Priestly Wisdom) might ask, ‘Why were you listening to heretics; it’s not good for faith formation.’ (I’d say no Catholic radio back then.) I’m aware of the Priestly reply, ‘God in his -actual- Mercy gave us the Rosary before ANY radio. Pray the Rosary to imitate what the Mysteries contain, and to obtain what they promise.’

    I thought I’d avail myself of an opportunity to talk to a Priest about the program. I don’t expect a reply. Some things are just left up to the Providence of God. Also, I want to give a small Confession. When I think of the protestant on the radio, I also think of Balaam’s ass of Numbers 23 – “When the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing on the road with sword drawn.” + I’m a hick father;- I’d also say about the man-on-the-radio, ‘Sometimes a blind pig finds an acorn.’

    The man-on-the-radio didn’t have the Grace found in a Priest. The man-on-the-radio sounded like he thought it was his job to chase ‘the money changers’ out of his program+church. (I attended Mass once where – The Priest stepped out of the Sanctuary, walked down the center aisle, raised his hand, pointing his finger over everyone’s head – asked, “What is the most important Commandment?” The answer was ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ Needless to say, everyone in Church sat up like school kids when the Priest stepped out of the Sanctuary and pointed his finger. All of us needed to hear that Homily in that Parish.

    — The loss of children is world wide. Most of it is due to real evil. — But there is a ‘mega-trend’ that is occurring in religious people also. I don’t know about the protestant program – It’s just the whole trend of less children is really peculiar.

    Thank you for being a Priest.

    (In case you were wondering- no one on that Sunday blurted out, ‘My name is Legion; why have you stepped out of the Sanctuary to persecute me?’) We as Catholics do know — the Priest has the hands & voice of God and the Homily-question-answer-pointing was for all of us.

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