Last week the New York Times ran an opinion piece entitled “The Fertility Implosion” by long term Op-Ed columnist David Brooks. This article was remarkable not so much for its content per se (good readers of this blog would have seen little that is new) but for the fact that it seems as if the chattering classes/literati/New York Times readers are finally cottoning onto the fact that the planet is not doomed by pending overpopulation. In fact, the opposite could instead be closer to the truth:
“If the 20th century was the century of the population explosion, the 21st century, as [Nicholas] Eberstadt notes, is looking like the century of the fertility implosion. Already, nearly half the world’s population lives in countries with birthrates below the replacement level…This leads to what the writer Philip Longman has called the gray tsunami — a situation in which huge shares of the population are over 60 and small shares are under 30.”
As Brooks notes, this applies to countries all over the world. Although the Arab Spring has been linked to the large numbers of young people, there has actually been “a little noticed demographic implosion” across the Arab world:
“…according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England — which is the least fertile region in the U.S. The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.”
Brooks also mentions Russia, Japan, China and Europe (search this blog if you’re unfamiliar with these various countries’ demographic problems). Even India, which will continue to produce lots of young workers, faces problems:
“…India faces a regional challenge. Population growth is high in the northern parts of the country, where people tend to be poorer and less educated. Meanwhile, fertility rates in the southern parts of the country, where people are richer and better educated, are already below replacement levels.”
According to 2010 census, even the US’ demographic growth is looking less robust than previously predicted. But even if it wasn’t, the “gray tsunami” will impact upon the US:
“…it’s probably wrong to see this as a demographic competition. American living standards will be hurt by an aging and less dynamic world, even if the U.S. does attract young workers…[i]n the 21st century, the U.S. could be the slowly aging leader of a rapidly aging world.”
That is a bleak outlook and conclusion. One that may just jolt some people out of the mind-set that the world’s population is inexorably growing and that we need to slow down the growth of the human population.
Postscript: Egads! It’s catching! Just as I was about to finish this post, I notice that the Guardian is heading up its front page online with this story about the looming “Demographic Timebomb” in China with 150 million only children! One NYTimes Op-Ed piece may be regarded as a misfortune, to have the Guardian lead its front page with something similar looks like carelessness. Maybe we really have turned the corner on the public consensus on this issue?