Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Overpopulation? Latest research suggests that we face a decline in population

From the left-wing Slate, of all places.

Excerpt:

A report issued last month by the Pew Research Center found that immigrant births fell from 102 per 1,000 women in 2007 to 87.8 per 1,000 in 2012. That helped bring the overall U.S. birthrate to a mere 64 per 1,000 women—not enough to sustain our current population.

Moreover, the poor, highly fertile countries that once churned out immigrants by the boatload are now experiencing birthrate declines of their own. From 1960 to 2009, Mexico’s fertility rate tumbled from 7.3 live births per woman to 2.4, India’s dropped from six to 2.5, and Brazil’s fell from 6.15 to 1.9. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average birthrate remains a relatively blistering 4.66, fertility is projected to fall below replacement level by the 2070s. This change in developing countries will affect not only the U.S. population, of course, but eventually the world’s.

Why is this happening? Scientists who study population dynamics point to a phenomenon called “demographic transition.”

“For hundreds of thousands of years,” explains Warren Sanderson, a professor of economics at Stony Brook University, “in order for humanity to survive things like epidemics and wars and famine, birthrates had to be very high.” Eventually, thanks to technology, death rates started to fall in Europe and in North America, and the population size soared. In time, though, birthrates fell as well, and the population leveled out. The same pattern has repeated in countries around the world. Demographic transition, Sanderson says, “is a shift between two very different long-run states: from high death rates and high birthrates to low death rates and low birthrates.” Not only is the pattern well-documented, it’s well under way: Already, more than half the world’s population is reproducing at below the replacement rate.

If the Germany of today is the rest of the world tomorrow, then the future is going to look a lot different than we thought. Instead of skyrocketing toward uncountable Malthusian multitudes, researchers at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis foresee the global population maxing out at 9 billion some time around 2070. On the bright side, the long-dreaded resource shortage may turn out not to be a problem at all. On the not-so-bright side, the demographic shift toward more retirees and fewer workers could throw the rest of the world into the kind of interminable economic stagnation that Japan is experiencing right now.

It kind of undercuts the need for the leftist fixation on abortion, environmentalism, etc. doesn’t it?

Ari also sent me this article from Foreign Policy magazine that argues that the declining rate of population is actually good news for conservatives.

Excerpt:

Declining birthrates also change national temperament. In the United States, for example, the percentage of women born in the late 1930s who remained childless was near 10 percent. By comparison, nearly 20 percent of women born in the late 1950s are reaching the end of their reproductive lives without having had children. The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and 70s, will leave no genetic legacy. Nor will their emotional or psychological influence on the next generation compare with that of their parents.

Meanwhile, single-child families are prone to extinction. A single child replaces one of his or her parents, but not both. Nor do single-child families contribute much to future population. The 17.4 percent of baby boomer women who had only one child account for a mere 7.8 percent of children born in the next generation. By contrast, nearly a quarter of the children of baby boomers descend from the mere 11 percent of baby boomer women who had four or more children. These circumstances are leading to the emergence of a new society whose members will disproportionately be descended from parents who rejected the social tendencies that once made childlessness and small families the norm. These values include an adherence to traditional, patriarchal religion, and a strong identification with one’s own folk or nation.

This dynamic helps explain, for example, the gradual drift of American culture away from secular individualism and toward religious fundamentalism. Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility rates are 12 percent higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry. It may also help to explain the increasing popular resistance among rank-and-file Europeans to such crown jewels of secular liberalism as the European Union. It turns out that Europeans who are most likely to identify themselves as “world citizens” are also those least likely to have children.

Does this mean that today’s enlightened but slow-breeding societies face extinction? Probably not, but only because they face a dramatic, demographically driven transformation of their cultures. As has happened many times before in history, it is a transformation that occurs as secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, and as people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default.

At least as long ago as ancient Greek and Roman times, many sophisticated members of society concluded that investing in children brought no advantage. Rather, children came to be seen as a costly impediment to self-fulfillment and worldly achievement. But, though these attitudes led to the extinction of many individual families, they did not lead to the extinction of society as a whole. Instead, through a process of cultural evolution, a set of values and norms that can roughly be described as patriarchy reemerged.

I think that if conservative men and women can get together and raise effective, influential children outside of the public school system, then we have some hope for the future. The welfare that is used to support single motherhood by choice is going to come to an end because of the debt crisis. When that happens, families headed by high-achieving men will be raising a higher proportion of the leaders of the next generation. Men and women who pool their resources and have more children will have more of an influence on the next generation.

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