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.

Is the Cost of Living Really Higher?

When I prepare couples for marriage I encourage them to a have a larger family. After all, God said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). I ponder with these couples that many married people no longer multiply; they merely replace themselves, and barely replace, at that! Many  have just two, sometimes only one child. I recall to these couples how when I was growing up it was more routine for there to be three, four, or five children in a family. My family had four. I glowingly report that my cousins had nine kids in their family and that my one brother and sister-in-law have six kids. My other brother and sister-in-law have three. As I talk to the couples in this way and encourage a larger family they being to look at me funny: “He can’t be serious!” When I ask for their reaction, many (though not all) say something to the effect, “Well, Father, economics have changed and the cost of living is higher today than it was back in the 1950s and 1960s. People can’t afford to do today what you are suggesting.”

Is the cost of living higher? Actually, no, at least not in terms of all the basics. In fact, prices today, adjusted for inflation and earning power, are actually significantly lower. The problem today is that we want more of everything. More on that later. But, for now, let’s look at some data. I apologize that the latest data I have comes from a 1997 report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. You can see the full report here:  Time Well Spent: The Declining Real Cost of Living in America.  I want to propose that the data from 1997, though older than I’d like, still provides a pretty current picture, since inflation has held pretty steady since 1997. Further, most of the data I am going to share is not expressed in dollars but rather in hours of work needed to pay for certain products.

Let’s start with the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Everyone likes to complain that gas prices are always going up. But actually, in the last 100 years they have steadily declined in inflation-adjusted figures and in the minutes of work needed to afford a gallon of gas. Look at the table at the left. You can click on the image to make it larger. When gas first began to be widely sold in 1920 it took almost 35 minutes to earn enough money to buy a gallon of gas. Today it takes the average American less than 6 minutes to earn the money necessary to buy a gallon of gas. This steady decline in the cost of gas is due to an increase in the wages of the average person and an actual decline in the price of gas in inflation-adjusted dollars. So gas is not going up over all. The graph does show a brief spike in the late 1970s due to the gas shortage. We also had a brief spike about seven years ago when, due to market adjustments, the price soared to over $4.00 a gallon. But the price has adjusted back downward to its overall long-term trend. So gas prices are not higher (relatively) than they were for our parents and grandparents. In the 1950s, people had to work, on average, twice as long to afford a gallon of gas as compared to today.

How about the most basic commodities of food, clothing, and shelter? Surely they absorb far more of our income than in the past. No, actually not, and in fact in a dramatic way. Look at the table at the right. You can click on the table to get a clearer view. Notice that in 1901 over 76% of income was spent on food, clothing, and shelter. In 1995 only about 38% of income was spent on these things. I do think this number is higher today, though, than it was in 1997. As you recall, the housing market became overheated and housing prices soared. However, the bubble burst last year and housing prices have tumbled to a more reasonable level. That’s bad news for people locked in mortgages from the last ten years, but good news for those seeking to buy today. A further thing to note is that in some areas housing prices are much higher than others. It is remarkable how much house you can get for $300K in many places in the mid-west compared to what the same square footage costs on the coasts. But again, the national average percentage of our income that has to be devoted to the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter is lower today, not higher. Now here, too, the problem with housing today is that most people want to buy huge houses that they can barely afford. But this is not because the cost of housing has actually increased. Rather our demand for more square feet and amenities has. More on this later.

Looking more closely at food, the chart at the left shows how many minutes a person had to work to afford some basic food items. Again, the numbers have dropped dramatically. Here too, this is due to two reasons. First, the average wage of Americans has increased significantly and this increase has far outpaced inflation. Second, the actual inflation-adjusted costs of most of the food products listed has dropped. This is due to more efficient farming, marketing, transportation, and so forth. The fact is, these things cost us a lot less than previous generations of the 1950s and the 1920s.

Finally, just a look at the chart to the right in terms of actual prices. Again, click on the chart to see a clearer image. The left column show the price of an item in 1897. The right column adjusts those figures for 1997, showing, not the actual cost in 1997,  but what that product would cost if the economic realities of 1897 were operative today. You can see by looking at the chart that ordinary household items cost a lot more in 1897  than we pay today. Imagine an ordinary pair of scissors costing $65, or a pair of nylons costing $22, or an aluminum pan costing $32. Most of the items on the list are far less expensive today.

So here is some data that speaks to actual cost of living today compared to previous times. The actual prices we pay are far less than those in the 1950s or 1920s and earlier paid.

Now the couples that look bewildered as I tell them to have a larger-than-average family, and who claim that the cost of living is higher today are often amused by these data, but not impressed. The fact is, they know it costs a lot to live today, and so do I. But why is that so?

The clearest answer as to why it is expensive to live today is not so much higher prices as it is that we want more of everything. We want bigger houses, fancier cars, more clothes, more options, more, more, more. The average size of a house in 1950 was 1,100 square feet. Today it is over 2,000 sq. ft. Many people I know routinely buy homes approaching 5,000 sq. ft. with a great room, cathedral ceilings, and every amenity you can image from granite countertops to jacuzzi tubs. One TV was common in the 1950s. Today there are often five or six. I shared a room with my brother for a good part of our early years. My 9 cousins had two rooms (boys and girls) in bunk beds. Hand-me-down clothes were a common money saver and the older children helped take care of the younger ones. Our many appliances also use a lot of electricity. Next time you’re enjoying your wide-screen, plasma, HD TV, go out and look at your electric meter. I haven’t mentioned air conditioning and many other appliances, but by now you’re getting the picture. We want more, bigger, the latest, and so forth.

The fact is, children have moved way down on the list. What we once most valued, children, we now often see as expensive and limiting in terms of the other things we want more. But it is not really children who are expensive, it is our lifestyles that are expensive. I realize medical costs are higher but, there too, we want and demand more.

In the end, we have changed. Blaming it on costs isn’t really the issue. Really, it’s consumption; it’s desire on steroids; it’s slavery to all the latest comforts and conveniences. Maybe it’s even just plain greed. To think that we might live more simply in a smaller, less expensive house and drive an older car in order to afford more children is almost “unthinkable” to us moderns. So the birth rate keeps dropping in the western world; our churches and schools grow emptier and our nursing homes begin to fill. Thank God for immigration. Without it, we would be in serious economic and social crisis.

And to the couples who stare back at me incredulously, I don’t apologize. I just smile and say, “Evangelization begins at home! Have lots of babies and raise them Catholic! The Church needs you; this nation needs you. Without new life and growth we’re dying.”

Life  isn’t really about things; it’s about people. An old saying goes,  “The most important things in life aren’t things.”

I know some of you will think I’m crazy, too, or that I’m missing something here. I also realize that direct comparisons to bygone eras are not possible and that additional things need to be added to this reflection. But that’s why there are comments, so have at it! But I offer this final thought: “It’s not really about cost; it’s about what we want.”

Wake up Call: Contraception is Cultural Suicide!

vesalius1In the article just below, Susan Timoney has called to our attention that latest notion of the “culture of death.” What is the “culture of death” you might ask.  Essentially what it amounts to is that the “solution” to problems seems (increasingly) to be the death(or non-existence) of a human being, or of human beings in general. If a baby is inconvenient or has birthdefects or is in somehow not preferred, abort (kill) the baby. If a prisoner has committed serious crimes, kill him. If a person is in the final stages of life and has difficulties that minimize the quality of life, kill the patient, or let him kill himself. Even our entertainment is deadly in nature. The typical adventure movie begins by some injustice or act of violence. Then our hero steps on the scene and, after about an hour and a half of killing people, breaking things, crashing cars, blowing up stuff etc., justice is restored and our hero walks off the scene with the girl in his arms. What was the solution to injustice? Why of course, death.

Save the Planet by Dying! And now, in order to save the planet what is the solution? Our old friend, death, or in this case, the premeditated non existence of people through contraception. You see we have to minimize our “carbon footprint” as a species so to “save the planet” we should block the existence of new human beings. (Ever notice how, only people who are already alive suggest that others should not exist?)  OK, so lets all agree that a clean planet with well managed resources is a good thing. But not if no one is around to enjoy it. The secular worldview sees the planet as an end in  it itself. The Judeo/Christian worldview sees the earth has having been made for the human race and given to us by God (cf Gen. 1:28) who told us to be fruitful and multiply.

Malthus was Wrong – For well over a century now the alarmists have told us we would run out of food and other resources. We have not. We have gotten smarter. We farm more efficiently and manage our resources better. There is plenty of food to go around. It is corruption and injustice that keeps some of the poor from being well fed, not a lack of resources.  But the culture of death insists on death and non-existence as a solution. Most of this kind of talk comes from the affluent West and western-style cultures.

Getting What We Want? – Well, perhaps the affluent West is about to get what it wants to dole out to others: increasing non-existence. It seems we are slowing going out of business. With birthrates plummeting throughout Europe and other Western democracies the writing is on the wall as never before: non-existence is looming ever larger. In France the birthrate is 1.8 children per family, well below the replacement level of 2.1 Ah! Good News! says the culture of death crowd. Not so fast. There is another birthrate in France that is quite different. Muslim families in France have a birthrate of 8.1 children per family. Europeans who have lost their love for life are simply being replaced by others who do love life. Europe as we know it today is going out of existence. Everywhere, in Germany, Italy, England and Spain, Japan too and other western style democracies too are being replaced.

Committing Suicide – And What of the Church? Last year the Roman Catholic Church was displaced as the largest religion in the world by Muslim believers who have taken the top spot. Not only is Western Culture committing a kind of suicide but so are the Catholics and other Christians there. The Catholic Church has warned of the dangers of contraception for years and the world, even many Catholics, have laughed at this “archaic” teaching. Well, it is time to wake up. We are committing suicide, we are going out of existence. It is almost as if the judgement of God is upon us, saying, “If you do not love life, you will be replaced by those who do.” God often strengthened Israel’s opponents in the Old Testament in order to punish and purify Israel. I wonder if something similar isn’ t happening here. The Christian West has cast aside its love of life and kicked faith to the curb. The Muslims who DO love life and have NOT kicked faith(though not our faith) to the curb are thriving. Pay attention.

Can’t Happen?? “Well”, you say, “It cannot happen. The Cathedrals of Europe will not become Mosques.” Think again. Ephesus was once the thriving center of a large Christian community in Asia Minor. This great city had some superstar Bishops. Paul had been there three years, possibly Peter, Then John the Beloved Apostle became its Bishop and Mother Mary according to tradition lived there in John’s household. But the Lord warned Ephesus: Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5). Today the Church in Ephesus is gone, the city lies in ruins. The other six Churches are also gone. Modern Day Turkey, though officially secular is predominately Muslim. North Africa was once a thriving Catholic area. There were over 500 bishops, among them the great Augustine and Cyprian. Many Church Fathers too: Athanasius, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyril. Today the ruins of the north African Church lie buried under the sand now trod by a population that is almost 100% Muslim. At least these ancient parts of the Church had the “dignity” of being conquered. We, it seems, at least in the Christian West, have prefered the  more cowardly way of suicide instead of courageously living our Catholic Faith and insisting on its truth in the midst of ridicule and opposition.

A Very Different Future is on the Doorstep – Ah, but some may say, Msgr. Pope is bigoted in suggesting that there is anything wrong  with Muslims replacing Christians. Well, I have nothing personally against the Muslims. I have just praised their zeal for their faith and zest for life. But the fact is, they do not, as a group, share our most basic beliefs and values. The Muslim World and faith are not known for accepting pluralistic societies. Religious tolerance is not a widespread concept among them. It could get very difficult for Christians and other religious traditions in the future. We just have to be sober about this. Western style democracy and Islam have had a troubled co-existence. It is not an unknown pair but it is rarer. Sharia law will likely replace many western notions of Law. And frankly, I wonder how much the cultures that replace the West will really care about environmental issues. I hope to be wrong about all of this but the world of the future is going to be very very different. And the future isn’t that far away. In less than 40 years France and most of Europe will be majority Muslim. The fact is I do love my Christian and Western Culture and DO want to preserve it. This does not make me a bigot. We have something worth saving, something different and to my mind much better than Islam. Western culture is ailing to be sure but if we can return to our Judeo/Christian roots there is something great to be saved and preserved. We ought to be alarmed to see our way of life so sick. We ought to seek healing from our God and hope to preserve the best of what we have achieved by God’s Grace.

Shame on Us – And we Christians collectively have brought most of this on ourselves. This has happened on our watch in a culture where Christians are the vast majority.  We have ignored our own Christian tradition that forbids contraception and embraced the culture of death. It looks like we are getting just what we want: death and non-existence. The Church has warned us but we have rejected her teaching and, at least collectively in the West, seem bent on contracepting and aborting our selves right out of existence. Shame on us.

The Remnant – If you are reading this you may be an exception. There ARE Christians who still love life. My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their 6th child. My other other brother and his wife have three. Both famlies practice their faith. Perhaps you who read this are doing your part too. But too many Christians, too many Catholics  have allowed themselves  to be deceived, to prefer death to life.

The following video depicts the demographic implosion at work in Europe and other Western cultures. It presents some very sobering truth. Watch it if you dare. Share it if you care.

Reflections on Recent Statistical Trends in the Church – Smaller, Stronger, Younger

The bad News: According to separate reports from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the American Religious Identification Survey, fewer Americans now call themselves Catholic, and those who do aren’t attending church or praying as often as they used to.

The good news: The Catholics who remain, Church leaders will tell you, are far more devoted and involved — particularly young adults.

Read more here and see a good video: YOUNG ADULTS LEAD THE CHARGE