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.