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Thread: European depopulation? New York Times Sunday Magazine article

  1. #1
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Appleton, Wisconsin

    European depopulation? New York Times Sunday Magazine article

    I don't have many immediate thoughts on this, so I'll put it up and see where it goes, but this past Sunday's (2008-06-29) New York Times Sunday Magazine had a fairly lengthy and very interesting essay on the precipitously low birth rate facing much of Europe (about 1.3 to about 1.5) and the rest of the 'western' World - with the notable exception of the USA (2.1, which is replacement level, during 2007) - and some of the potential problems that that will create over the next several generations. (What is Canada's current birth rate?)


    From what I am aware of, throughout most of its history, the USA has also had a below replacement rate birth rate (the post WWII 'baby boom' years being a notable exception), but maintained a steady strong overall growth rate due to immigration. According to that article, in 1984 the US Census Bureau expected the USA's population to be 309M in 2050. It is now, in 2008, 304M and their projection is now about 450M for 2050 (assuming that the USA's current borders are maintained).

    Any thoughts?


  2. #2
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
    Feb 2004
    on my 15 minute break
    I had no idea the birth rate was as high as 2.1 in the US - that's almost approaching a level found more commonly in developing nations! Usually it's around 1.2 or so.

    Generally speaking here on the planet Earth the higher the income the lower the birthrates. If there's an increase in fertility/birth rates in this country it's probably due in part to our increasing Hispanic population - the large majority of whom come from Roman Catholic backgrounds and are accordingly opposed to the use of contraceptives. I'm not sure how the demographics break down, though.

    On a personal level, I can readily understand how someone could be opposed to abortion as a means of birth control, but I have a much harder time understanding how a church or individual could be opposed to the use of contraceptives - it's not like using a condom is killing anyone. In fact, given that the world has finite resources, it seems pretty darned irresponsible on a global scale for populations NOT to exercise some form of family planning.

  3. #3
    ah Maister, my thoughts exactly!

    I get particularly upset with the stereotype that hispanics in low income areas keep having children to stay on welfare. Not only is that an absurd reason, because public benefits still aren't really a living "wage", but people seem to forgot a lot of hispanics are very Catholic, and Catholics generally have big families (I was Catholic, believe me, there were plenty of families at my church with 5+ kids).

    I'm not too surprised to see the U.S. stat of 2.1 though..

  4. #4
    Mar 2007
    the clue is in the name
    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    (assuming that the USA's current borders are maintained).
    Excuse me? Is there something we (and our canadian friends) should know about?

    But on topic... I've read several things recently about the dramatic fall in population in eastern European countries. A combination of falls in birth rate post-collapse and out-migration following acession to the EU (though many migrants from Latvia, Slovenia etc seem to plan to return home at some point). Apparently, there are many villages in eastern Europe which are becoming ghost towns with just a few very elderly inhabitants. In densly populated England it seems amazing to think...

    And as to Catholic countries, I was under the impression that Italy now has one of the lowest birth rates in western Europe.

    Oh well - perhaps it all makes more room for the waves of migration which could follow catastrophic climate changes (if or when).

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
    Aug 2002
    Thanks for posting the link to this article, Mike. I found it fascinating (FWIW, I'm a demographics junkie ). And I appreciated the author's willingness to explore both sides of the issue: is the glass half-empty or half-full?

    One researcher makes an important point: "...the real question is: How necessary is population growth to economic growth?... A huge number of people in Europe are underemployed or out of work. Get them back in the labor force, and some of these problems are mitigated. That should be the first target, rather than getting people pregnant." But how quickly can people be educated or trained for the jobs available? I see the same scenario in the U.S. My personal belief is that the U.S. and Europe need to increase the flow of immigration to offset demographic changes and fulfill our needs for educated labor as baby boomers retire. But (again as the article notes) immigration "touches all sorts of raw nerves," especially when the immigrants are coming from countries with vastly different cultures.

    I thought that the discussion of what some German communities are doing to prepare for continuing population decline was very interesting from a planning perspective. It reminded me of the oft-cited Youngstown (Ohio) 2010 Plan and its approach to "controlled shrinkage" of the city. Hey, when life deals you lemons... if these communities can make something positive out of shrinkage, that's great.

    Maister, I think you're right about the U.S. Hispanic population and its impact on birth rates. Hispanic families do tend to have more children. However, I'm not convinced that "the higher the income, the lower the birth rate." As the article itself points out: "The accepted demographic wisdom had been that as women enter the job market, a society's fertility rate drops. That has been broadly true in the developed world, but more recently, and especially in Europe, the numbers don't bear it out."

    Anyway, I hope others will read this article and post their comments.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
    Mar 2007
    Lowering the PCI in the Hills
    Like Mud Princess, I appreciate that the author provided multiple view points and reactions regarding the lowest-low phenomena.

    Something that wasn't mentioned in the article that I always think about [declining] birth rates (and yes, I think about these nerdy topics quite often), is do we really need all these people? I am not talking about environmental concerns either.

    Western nations no longer are agrarian in nature and because of increased productivity of our commercial farms; we are able to produce much more with many less workers. Additionally, while sustenance farming may be making a comeback in niche communities for green reasons, it seems to be something that has all but disappeared from Middle America. Also, in developing countries, as infant mortality rates begin to decline, families no longer feel the pressure to have many children in quick succession because they are more confident that those that they already have are going to be able to survive, become productive, and contribute to the family. I think it's logical to assume that a mother in Ethiopia or someplace similar in 1970 would not expect her children to survive as grow at the same rate that a mother in the same place would today. And unless you have an unlimited and increasing supply of land, equipment, or other resources, the law of diminishing returns is going to kick in pretty soon after the first few children.

    Overall, I wouldn't expect the declining birth rates to continue forever in these places. Once a society would hit a certain level of comfort and begin to have more and more free time on their hands, they may decide that they have more time to devote to a larger family and because of the overall increases in productivity around the world, additional children may not be as costly as they are today.

    Of course, there may be a more simple explanation to all of this. Maybe people just don't care about sex anymore. Natalism? We may need to get much more militant about encouraging folks to have more babies. To quote the narrator from Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, "I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every panda that wouldn't screw to save it's species." Would that be taking the issue a bit too far?
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  7. #7
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
    Jan 2005
    Wading in quickly:

    Canadian birth rate is somewhere between 1.5 and 1.7, if memory serves. I've heard speculation that the American birth rate of 2.1 is largely due to the Mexican migrant population.

    Does anyone recall what replacement level is? I think it is more than 2.1 in order to account for the increasing number of people who are not having kids... not sure, though.

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