More than a decade ago, the UN Population Division issued a report on fertility reduction. They asked the question, how low can fertility go? Would it bottom out at 1.5 babies per woman? 1.0? 0.8? The answer? They did not know. This did not stop the UN at large from continuing to spend billions to drive fertility down even further.
This week in New York, at the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Population and Development, delegates will consider the latest report by the same Population Division. This one investigates the flip side of the problem: population aging. Fertility decline coupled with mortality decline has led to a spike in the age of the world’s population.
There are already more elderly people in the developed world than children, according to the Population Division. The entire planet will most likely face the same reality in the next few decades. The report calls this change “unprecedented,” “pervasive,” “profound,” and, ominously, “irreversible.”
It is unprecedented because there is no historical record of something like this ever happening before. Never has the viability of civilization been threatened by the accumulation of millions upon millions of individual choices not to reproduce.
It is pervasive because all regions are aging rapidly; while a caricature may exist of sub-Saharan Africa as a place of unconstrained fertility, this is only because Africa is a couple of decades behind already-decrepit Europe. But the poorer regions of the world are quickly catching up.
It is profound because it will transform “all facets of human life. In the economic area, population aging will have an impact on economic growth, savings, investment, consumption, labor markets, pensions, taxation and intergenerational transfers. In the social sphere, population aging influences family composition and living arrangements, housing demand, migration trends, epidemiology and the need for healthcare services. In the political arena, population aging may shape voting patterns and political representation.”
It is irreversible because the UN anticipates that mortality will continue to decline, while there will be no significant rebound in fertility.
The Population Division explores some of the more obvious implications. According to the latest figures, many of the countries in the developed world are so far advanced in this aging process that it is difficult to imagine how they may emerge culturally intact.
The median age of Japan is already 44. One in four Germans and Italians are now over age 60. By 2050, 1 in 10 of the residents of the developed world will be over age 80. Just to maintain the current ratio of working-aged people necessary to prop up the existing social security system, the Population Division has estimated that most European countries would need so many immigrants that, by 2050, 50% to 99% of the population would be foreign-born.
Developing countries have a different problem: “The pace of population aging is faster in developing countries than in developed countries. Consequently, developing countries will have less time to adjust to the consequences of population aging.” The UN has labeled this short period of time a “demographic window,” a time in which the developing world may finally have a chance to develop (since there are fewer children to care for), before the window slams shut, and the full consequences of aging are felt. In short, the developing world is growing old before it has grown rich.
But even more important implications, many of them geopolitical, are beyond the scope of the UN statisticians. First, the positive consequences of American demographic exceptionalism need to be protected. The United States is the only country in the developed world that has maintained a vigorous birth rate. We should not rob ourselves of the resulting economic, social and military vitality by volunteering to adopt the enervating European social democratic model (such as Obamacare).
Second, European geopolitical decisions can now be anticipated based upon the continent’s demographic weakness. The European war on terror, and in general the European response to militant Islam, must be impacted by the presence of unassimilated Muslims in all of Europe’s major slums, Muslims first welcomed into Europe to replace its own missing children. Also, the European embrace of multilateralism, while couched in the most moralistic of terms, can be seen as a strategic attempt to constrain the power of a demographically healthy United States.
The very nations which will need robust family size to counter the effects of aging are the ones most assiduously targeted by UN development agencies, Europe and the Obama Administration to depress fertility even further.
The UN Population Fund has just called for a doubling of funds for global contraception to $24 billion this year. The Obama Administration boasts that family planning will garner much of its $64 billion global fund in the next six years. But far from delivering a “geriatric peace,” greater fertility suppression portends a more unstable world.
If the debate over the dangers of fertility decline are any indication of the UN response to aging, what can we expect? For one, we can expect them to couch the issue of aging in terms of rights. There is talk even now in the halls of UN headquarters of an International Convention on Aging, and UN treaty monitoring committees are already re-interpreting international conventions to include all sorts of new rights for the elderly. A new protected class will be created.
You can also be sure the result of this week’s meeting, whose centerpiece is a statement by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, will be a call for even more of the policies that got us into the mess. Will they face the real challenge of aging? Will they encourage couples to have babies? Not a chance.