“Demographic Winter” — a dramatic new documentary — is the first to explore the most overlooked crisis of our times: the rapid, worldwide decline in birth rates.
Philip Longman, a demographer and author of “The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity,” observes: “The on-going global decline in human birthrates is the single most powerful force affecting the fate of nations and the future of society in the 21st. century.”
Doomsayers from Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich have warned of “overpopulation” leading to depleted resources and mass starvation. In reality, more people have generated to more prosperity and higher standards of living.
What the world faces in the 21st century is another type of demographic crisis, but one that is painfully real: falling fertility rates and aging populations which could ultimately endanger civilization.
The average woman has to have 2.1 children during her lifetime — just to replace current population.
In less than 40 years, fertility rates have fallen by over 50% worldwide. In 1970, the average woman had 6 children during her lifetime. Today, the global average is 2.9. The United Nations Population Division predicts a further decline to 2.05 by 2050.
In much of the industrialized world, the crisis can be discerned even now:
• Europe might as well hang a “Going Out of Business” sign on its door. The average birth rate for the European Union is 1.5, well below replacement (2.1). In Italy, it’s 1.2.
• Russia has a birth rate of 1.17, down from 2.4 in 1990. There are now almost as many abortions as births in the Russian Federation. The nation is losing roughly 750,000 people a year. Its current population (143 million) is expected to decline to 112 million by 2050. In a desperate effort to stave off demographic winter, the government is offering a baby bonus of 250,000 rubles (the equivalent of $9,200) for every child a family has after the first.
• Worldwide, there are 6 million fewer children (6 years of age and younger) today than there were in 1990. This is an initial tremor of a coming earthquake. If current trends continue, by 2050, the world will hold 248 million fewer children under 5 than it does today.
• The industrialized world will soon face severe labor shortages. The European Union estimates a shortfall of 20 million workers by 2030.
• In the developed world, populations are rapidly aging. In 1989, 11.6% of Japan’s population was over 65. Less than 20 years later, seniors are 21.1% of the Japanese people. Its low birthrate (1.25) and graying population are why almost no one talks about Japan Inc. anymore. In the 1990s, Japan’s stock market fell 80% from its all-time high and its real estate market lost 60% of its value.
• In industrialized nations as a whole, those over 60 now constitute 20% of the population — a figure which will rise to 32% by 2050. By then, according to UNPD, these societies will have two seniors for every child.
• The developing world isn’t far behind. In the Philippines, the birth rate dropped from 6 in the early 1970s to 2.8 today, with further declines in store. In Egypt, in the 1960s, the average woman had 7.3 children during her lifetime, compared to 3.7 today. Mexico’s birthrate is only 2.1, the same as America’s.
This “Demographic Winter” will impact on many areas of our lives:
• What will happen in the First World as fewer and fewer workers are called on to provide pensions for more and more retirees? At what point will the burden become so onerous that young workers will simply rebel and refuse to support a system that they couldn’t possibly hope to benefit from?
• How will Russia, which is expected to lose a third of its population by mid-point of this century, defend its borders? If Russia, which occupies the largest territory of any nation, dissolves into enclaves of squabbling ethnic groups it will destabilize both Europe and Asia.
• Due to falling birthrates, at some point in the century, the world’s population will begin to decline. Then the decline will become rapid. We could even reach population free-fall.
• Throughout the course of history, there is no instance of economic growth accompanied by population decline. How can an industrial society be maintained with fewer and fewer workers and consumers?
The foregoing is the backdrop for “Demographic Winter: the decline of the human family.” The documentary is an exploration of the phenomenon by experts — including demographers, sociologists and economists.
Scholars like Gary Becker (Nobel Laureate in Economics at the University of Chicago), David Popenoe (a professor of sociology at Rutgers and the author of “War Over The Family”), Patrick Fagan (former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, currently Director of the Center for Family and Religion at the Family Research Council) and Longman, a senior fellow with the New American Foundation, discuss the sober reality of humanity’s failure to reproduce itself, as well as causes and consequences thereof.
The discussion is anything but dry and academic. These scholars bring their expertise to bear on a coming catastrophe that’s now well below the radar screen of our national consciousness, but one which will affect our future far more than the hypothetical crises on which the media is fixated.
For the sake of our children and their children, let us pray these voices are heeded.
“Demographic Winter, the decline of the human family” is the first of a two-part series on falling birthrates and what they portend. The 55-minutes DVD can be ordered online here, where a 3-minute trailer can also be viewed. There will be a screening “Demographic Winter” at the Family Research Council on April 9, followed by a panel discussion.