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May 03, 2009

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The world human population is 6.7 billion, and rising steadily: sometime in 1999, the world population was six billion, so it's increased by around 745 000 000 people in the past 10 years.

Concern about "falling populations" is inappropriate - as a species, we absolutely don't have that problem - and in general can be sourced back to right-wingers/Christians who have a problem with women being able to decide how many children to have, and - usually expressed in terms of being concerned about "Northern Europe" / "North America" - a problem with not enough white babies being born.

If the world population of humans decreases because women are choosing not to have large families - when women choose to bear one or two children at most - this is nothing but a good thing, on all levels.

On all levels?

Since the tax base is based on people between the ages of 20 and 60, the question of how does a country pay for things if the tax base is shrinking is appropriate and, regardless of the situation faced by humans as a species, how individual countries deal with these situations is something that should concern us. We should actually be looking at a 'soft landing', rather than the kind of sudden demographic shifts that hilzoy points to.

Also, the shifting of the age cohort is probably going to produce a more conservative, nationalistic population which is going to have a negative impact on foreign affairs. You can also see this in the increasingly conservative stance of the Catholic church in the US, which is suffering a demographic shift akin to that of Russia and Iran.

On all levels?

Well, on all levels not overtly racist or sexist, but I wasn't concerning myself with those.

how individual countries deal with these situations is something that should concern us.

Logically speaking, given that the world population is on the rise (in 1962, the world population was 3.2 billion: today it's 6.7 billion: you do the math, there is no shortage of people between 20 and 60 in the world today) the solution is open borders and investment in education.

It's kind of like flailing around trying to get more and more oil: there is a strictly limited supply of oil, so the solution, long term, is to invest in other sources of renewable energy, or look forward to a crash like there's never been before.

There is no demographic shortage of people under 50 worldwide. If individual countries are seeing their populations get proportionally older because previous generations of women took for granted they'd have to have many children, while current generations of women take for granted they can choose to have none, just one, or two, and rarely have more than two, this is a good thing: it only becomes a problem if the country is dead set on keeping its borders closed and people of a different racial mix out.

Yes, and we all know that questions of citizenship and membership into society are decided solely on terms of logic.

And you can't just relocate people who are 20 to 60 to a country that needs a tax base. One of the notions behind the open border policy of the EU was to allow workers to move which needed workers. Unfortunately, ties of culture and language have prevented that from taking place, but the logic of language and culture often trump other considerations.

Overall, falling birthrates are likely going to prove a good thing for the Iraninan people (if not the authorities), as diminishing resources face fewer strains. Ditto for Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. (China's particular problem of a looming heavily male society, and Russia's collapse are distinctive in low fertility possibly proving more trouble than its worth.)

So, all in all, good news -- a sliver of hope, even perhaps -- for the developing world.

Conversely, Africa's soaring fertility rate, combined with religious strife brought on by a mass conversion race, is likely to compound the continent's already massive troubles.

All in all...

Jesurgislac must be the most race conscious commenter on this site. It's always interesting to see how soon in a thread Jes will accuse someone of racism.

On this thread, Jes does it in the very first comment on at 4:05a, 4:06 after the thread started..

It took almost 8 hours on the "He Used ... Sarcasm" thread. Jes did it at 10:23a on a thread started at 2:27a.

It took only 3 hours and 4 minutes on the "Why We Need Universal Health Insurance" thread.

It took an amazing 2 days 2 hours and 6 minutes on the "Bracketology" thread but Jes worked it in. "Bracketology" was a financial thread so Jes had to follow suit with his/her various class warfare cards before he/she could play the racism trump card.

because the human mind displays great variation in its desires and ambitions, we cannot be too surprised if every now and then, here and there, we find women who genuinely aspire to produce large quantities of children. women who do not simply want a child or two, but strive to reach into the double digits. strange, to my mind, but then some people collect hummel figurines.

having granted that the production of large families does, in some cases, spring from a genuine desire on the mother's part, i think that the more common case, and the case that will be found at the population level, is this: when women have a choice in the matter, and have some credible alternative routes to power, status, and economic sufficiency, they generally do not strive to have 6.5 children a piece.

conversely, where you see a large population of women having vast numbers of children, you may assume with some confidence that they face either grinding poverty or an organized deprivation of choice.

thus the fall in the birthrate in iran seems to me like excellent news. it suggests that women have more attractive options, and a greater liberty to exercise them, than when the mullahs' revolutionary fervor was at its height.

liberal japonicus: Yes, and we all know that questions of citizenship and membership into society are decided solely on terms of logic.

What, is that sarcasm?

Yeah, I know, I know: but just the same: I find it difficult to get too upset about falling birthrates in any one country, given that the world population is steadily rising.

And China is but one particularly sharp example of a widespread fall in birthrates that is occurring across most of the developing world, including much of Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

IIRC when Europe and the US went thru their period of rapid industrialization and urbanization their population growth rates initially surged as infant mortality declined with improvements in medicine and sanitation while birth rates remained high, and then within a couple of generations birthrates declined sharply as cultural mores regarding family size derived from a predominantly rural population adjusted to these new urban/industrial conditions. This report reads like something similar may be happening in the developing world of the late 20th / early 21st Cen.

How much of this is due to economic globalization and attendant increased levels of urbanization in the developing world and how stable is this trend going to be if economic globalization comes to an abrupt end - something that is a possible outcome of the current financial crisis? I think it may be too early to project these trends out into the mid- to late-21st Cen.

"Concern about "falling populations" is inappropriate - as a species, we absolutely don't have that problem - and in general can be sourced back to right-wingers/Christians who have a problem with women being able to decide how many children to have"

I'm not a big fan of over-using evolutionary psychology, but ummm I think the personal and social reasons behind supporting childbirth might go a little teeny bit deeper than those right-wingers/Christians you feel the need to accuse of every wrong under the sun.

"usually expressed in terms of being concerned about "Northern Europe" / "North America" - a problem with not enough white babies being born."

And I'd tread a bit gingerly accusing anti-birth control people of racism, when the history of the pro-birth control people is completely swimming in the hope that it would keep black people from reproducing.

Concern about "falling populations" is inappropriate - as a species, we absolutely don't have that problem

Rare moment of agreement between J and I.

Slarti, I thought you were concerned with the effects of China's one child policy, which is another aspect of this. And I don't think discussing something in a blog post means that one is 'upset' about it. It's just something to try and understand. Certainly changing birthrates lead to different societal structures and that has a profound effect on any range of things. Not being interested in it seems to rule out a range of explanations that may end up being important if you want to try to explain various societal phenomena.

I thought you were concerned with the effects of China's one child policy, which is another aspect of this.

Oh, I am. Concerned, but not sure what else they ought to have done, other than bypassed the entire Mao episode in favor of something less crazy.

And I don't think discussing something in a blog post means that one is 'upset' about it.

Probably you need to be addressing this part to Jesurgislac. I don't have that whole they're only interested in it because of X conversation going on.

My agreement with Jesurgislac was momentary, only. I think that people tend to be concerned about birthrates for reasons other than racism, occasionally, even if I'm a racist for thinking that.

We can be concerned about the growth of the human population globally as well as be concerned about concurrent population declines in some countries. These two concerns are not mutually exclusive. This is just like the case where we are concerned about economic growth with a country as well as the distributional impact of that growth. When conservatives talk about how much the economy has grown in the last few decades, the liberal response has generally been 'overall economic growth matters little if large sections of the population only barely kept their head above water or saw purchasing power erosion'. Total numbers matter. In many cases, so distributions.

Logically speaking, given that the world population is on the rise (in 1962, the world population was 3.2 billion: today it's 6.7 billion: you do the math, there is no shortage of people between 20 and 60 in the world today) the solution is open borders and investment in education.

Yes, you think the solution is open borders and massive investments in education. However, since you are not dictator queen of the world, your opinion is profoundly irrelevant when it comes to predicting the future state of the world. Many governments do not share your beliefs in the utility of open borders and significant investments in education, so in that world, the real world, we have to deal with the fact that in many countries there will be shortages amongst certain critical demographics.

"when women choose to bear one or two children at most - this is nothing but a good thing, on all levels."

As a grown daughter watching her parents' generation desperately trying to provide care for their own parents' generation, I am not sure that I do see this as a good thing altogether. Having more than one child spreads out the burden on the kids to take care of the parents, and makes a huge difference in the amount of care they are able to provide. My dad and his sisters are providing daily care for their parents, even though they are living in an assisted living facility. With doctor appointments, helping them to pay bills and do other administrative things, going shopping for necessities (adult diapers, prescriptions, etc), there is as much work to do as there is with a couple of young kids.
As the mother of three, I am not unbiased in this discussion. But just wanted to point out that people have kids for many reasons, and in some countries, it's because no one else will take care of you when you're old. Including in the US. You're crazy if you think anyone else is going to do it here.

lebecka:

But just wanted to point out that people have kids for many reasons, and in some countries, it's because no one else will take care of you when you're old.

Speaking as a biologist, I actually think that this is more often the case than not, and it's one of the most distinctive features of human demographics: most people (across societies and over the long course of history and pre-history) do not have offspring to reproduce, but for social security.

I *do* basically agree with Slart and Jes, that falling birthrates are *not* a global problem. The falling Russian birthrate discussed in that World Affairs Article would not IMHO be a "problem" if they were not due to factors like "mortality levels for women in their twenties ... have been rising, not falling, in recent decades."

Eberstadt drops this absolutely crucial demographic factor into his discussion, but then resolutely doesn't talk about it for the rest of the article. He talks about increased deaths from cardiovascular disease -- but surely that's not hitting women in their 20s. He talks about alcohol poisoning (traditionally a problem for older males) and has a vague discussion about "injuries". Could that lump under the carpet be women killed by drunken and/or stressed men?

that falling birthrates are *not* a global problem

I think it's basically a slippery-slope fallacy: if we start on this decreasing-population path, we might slide all the way down to zero.

Which is silly, I think, but people really do get hooked into it. By the gonads, most likely.

I think it's basically a slippery-slope fallacy: if we start on this decreasing-population path, we might slide all the way down to zero.

Eh? If some politically unstable societies end up massively impoverished because they've got a small cohort trying to take care of a much larger older cohort, you think there's no problem there? Even if the resulting problems trigger political instability and violence? You think we shouldn't even keep an eye out for this sort of thing?

If some politically unstable societies end up massively impoverished because they've got a small cohort trying to take care of a much larger older cohort, you think there's no problem there?

Where'd I say that?

Yay typepad stripped my comment of italics tags. That proves that typepad loves me!

Slarti, I was just trying to make the point that concern over decreasing populations might be associated with more than just a slippery slope fallacy. To the extent that there are legitimate strategic reasons to care about this, I'm not sure what the point of talking about slippery slope arguments is.

I'm with Turb here: "We can be concerned about the growth of the human population globally as well as be concerned about concurrent population declines in some countries. These two concerns are not mutually exclusive."

I don't much care for any form of massive social dislocation (meaning involuntary social dislocation, of the sort produced by large changes over which one has no control, e.g. demographic or climate changes, as opposed to e.g. large increases in social mobility, which I'm fine with.) The situation in Russia is just horrendous, and no amount of thinking that people could just relocate from sub-Saharan Africa to Vladivostok makes it less so.

Point taken, Turbulence. I didn't mean to imply that there were no legitimate concerns; I was thinking of the Sean Hannity-esque (possibly Michael Savage, too, as well as a number of others who I don't care enough to find names for) obsession with birthrate, in the sense that declining birthrates are a Bad Thing and represent eventual Death Of Our Culture.

Slarti, ah, I see what you're saying. I agree with you regarding the absurdity of the Hannity/Savage/Dobbs concerns about birthrates.

Along with the trend toward lower birth rates and longer life expectancies, let's not forget another one. People are staying healthy and vigorous much later into life than in the past. As populations age, we are going to have to give up this assumption that only people from 20 to 60 are productive and form the tax base and think in terms of a retirement age of 70, 75 or even 80.

Turbulence: However, since you are not dictator queen of the world, your opinion is profoundly irrelevant when it comes to predicting the future state of the world.

As no one commenting on this thread is queen of the world (aside from d'd'd'dave, maybe, who seems to get more grandiose every time) this thread should obviously close down as all our opinions are profoundly irrelevant. Right? Sheesh, Turb, how long have you been kicking around the state of the world on blogs?

Hilzoy: The situation in Russia is just horrendous, and no amount of thinking that people could just relocate from sub-Saharan Africa to Vladivostok makes it less so.

Nor will any amount of thinking that Russian women must start having lots more babies. Yet...

I have a friend who is child-free. She has a written contract with a younger person that stipulates that her estate will go to the younger person provided that the younger person cares for her in her old age. Other wise her seate will go to a charity for homeless and/or abused parrots.

wonkie:

That's very interesting, it's very much like an "adult adoption" -- an arrangement that IIRC has been practiced in a variety of cultures for precisely this reason.

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