Now that we can confidently say that there are 7 billion humans living on the planet, we need to be more clear about what that fact means for the future -- if anything. Leftists, greens, Luddites, carbon hysterics, and regressives of all types are declaring doom. The United Nations is now fearfully predicting that 15 billion humans will walk the Earth in the year 2100. And yet, should we really be worrying about overpopulation, in the real world?
The world’s population recently passed the 7 billion mark, and, of course, the news was greeted with hysteria and consternation in the media. “It’s not hard to be alarmed,” intoned National Geographic. “We should all be afraid, very afraid,” warned the Guardian.
To be sure, continued population increases, particularly in very poor countries, do threaten the world economy and environment — not to mention these countries’ own people. But overall the biggest demographic problem stems not from too many people but from too few babies.
This is no longer just a phenomenon in advanced countries. The global “birth dearth” has spread to developing nations as well. Nearly one-third of the 59 countries with “sub-replacement” fertility rates — those under 2.1 per woman — come from the ranks of developing countries. Several large and important emerging countries, including Iran, Brazil and China, have birthrates lower than the U.S. _NewGeography
This scenario [global aging] is already a reality in Japan and much of the European continent, including Greece, Spain, Portugal, much of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Germany. Adults over the age of 65 make up more than 20% of these countries’ populations — compared with 15% in the U.S. — and their numbers could double by 2030, according to researchers Emma Chen and Wendell Cox.
In many of these countries, rising debt burdens and shrinking labor markets have already slowed economic growth and suppressed any hope for a major long-term turnaround. The same will happen to even the best-run European economies, just as it has in Japan, whose decades-long growth spurt ended as its workforce began to shrink.
By 2030 the weight of an aging population will strangle what’s left of these economies. Germany, Japan, Italy and Portugal, for example, will all have only two workers for every retiree. The U.S. will fare somewhat better, with closer to three workers per retiree. By 2030 the median age will also be higher in China and Korea than in the U.S. This age difference will grow substantially by 2050, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity.
The biggest impact of aging, however, will not occur in northern Europe and Japan, where there may be enough chestnuts hidden away to keep the aged fed, but in Asia. In the next few decades, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, and even Indonesia will start following Japan into the wheelchair stage of their demographic histories. These are not quite rich places like China and Brazil, which still lack the wealth and a developed welfare state to take care of the elderly Although not headed directly to European or Japanese rates of aging, these countries will experience a doubling of their Old Age Dependency Ratios; both will rise slightly above current U.S. levels by 2030.
...Largely left out of the analysis may well be the next big demographic phenomenon: the rise of childlessness. We have already seen how the move in developing countries from six kids or more per household has reduced population growth. In a similarly dramatic way the shift towards zero children, particularly in wealthier countries could have unforeseen lasting consquences. After all, with two children, or even with one kid, there’s the possibility of two or more grandchildren. With no children, it’s game over — forever.
Of course, there have always been unmarried people and childless people; some by necessity or health reasons, others by choice. But now a growing proportion of young child-bearing age women in countries as diverse as Italy, Japan and Taiwan are claiming no intention of having even one child. One-third of Japanese women in their 30s are unmarried, and similar trends are developing in other Asian countries.
...The chidlessness phenomenon stems largely from such things as urbanization, high housing prices, intense competition over jobs and the rising prospects for women. The secularization of society — essentially embracing a self-oriented prospective — may also be a factor.
If this trend gains momentum, we may yet witness one of the greatest demographic revolutions in human history. As larger portions of the population eschew marriage and children, today’s projections of old age dependency ratios may end up being wildly understated. More important, the very things that have driven human society from primitive time — such as family and primary concern for children — will be shoved ever more to the sidelines. Our planet may be less crowded and frenetic, but, as in many of our child-free environments, a little bit sad and lot less vibrant.
Our future may well prove very different from the Malthusian dystopia widely promoted in the 1960s and still widely accepted throughout the media. With fewer children and workers, and more old folks, the “population bomb” end up being more of an implosion than an explosion. _Kotkin NewGeography
Of course, the last populations to achieve zero population growth may arrive on the scene and find everyone else already gone. In this case, the first ones to adopt the trend lose -- permanently.