Demography Redux

A post at First Thoughts this week links to some recent rumblings over much of the world’s fretting about the global population reaching 7 billion, despite the fact that nobody seems to be worried that most nations now have a falling birth rate.

So which is it? Does the world have too many people, or too few? The most honest answer is probably that the threat of “overpopulation” is alarmist and emotion-based, whereas worries about declining birthrates are underappreciated, even though they are more grounded in hard facts. Indeed, if predictions like Kotkin’s play out, and emerging nations follow the demographic trends of advanced ones, the strange phenomenon of societies breeding themselves out of existence may no longer simply be a first world problem but a global one. It’s entirely conceivable that, 100 years from now, should the ‘birth dearth’ continue to spread, our progeny will look back nostalgically on earlier times when people fretted about “overpopulation.” Indeed, in a growing number of contexts, professional demographers already are.

Quite right.  As a teacher, I often hear people pay lip service to the trope that “children are our future,” but few seem to appreciate just how crucial that human capital is.  In the long run, fewer children must mean less of a future.

This reminded me of an exchange about demography on NPR about a month ago.  Even they’ve had a few stories in recent years about the dangers of falling birth rates, but a comment by the snob interviewer in this one irked me a little.  Continue reading