Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What To Expect When No One's Expecting

I like interesting information.  I like intriguing insights.  I like considering whether demographics really foretells our destiny.

Therefore, it was certain I was going to really like reading "What To Expect When No One's Expecting" by Jonathan Last.  Starting first and foremost with the title of the book. I think that's one of the better book titles in a long time. Last delivers on all counts in this book that is subtitled "America's Coming Demographic Disaster". However, in reading the book, lower birth rates are not so much America's problem as a challenge for the entire world.

The fact is that birth rates are falling globally. And below replacement (2.1 births per woman in the aggregate) birth rates (and the resulting smaller population that eventually follows it) have always brought about gloom, that eventually became doom, for every society that breached that important reproductive threshold over time.

To put this in perspective, there is not one country in the developed world that has a fertility rate exceeding 2.1 right now. In fact, only 3 percent of the world's population lives in a country that the birth rate is not declining. Some of the undeveloped world still has high fertility rates but they are dropping rapidly. And history has shown that once the fertility rate drops it is hard to get it going the other way.

Here is a sampling of the total fertility rates in major countries around the world as referenced in the book.

Let's take a look at a few of the factoids that are highlighted in the book that I found particularly informative and interesting.

  • At Poland's current fertility rate of 1.32, the number of Poles will drop from 38 million today to 16.4 million in 2100. The 0-14 age group in Poland is 40% smaller than the cohort today in their prime reproductive years.  For Poland to maintain a stable population, it needs all the little girls in Poland under age 14 today to have four babies each during their lifetimes and to continue that bias for babies for the next generation as well.
  • Germany is already shedding 100,000 in people every year due to its 1.36 fertility rate. In Russia, it is even worse.  Russia had 149.6 million people in 1995.  Today it only has 138 million.
  • To show how fast the birth rates is falling in Russia, consider that in the last 16 years of the Soviet Union there were 36 million births.  In the 16 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, births in Russia have only totaled 22.3 million births.  One factor in this drop off is the fact that today there are 30% more abortions than births in Russia.
  • In 1960, Venice, Italy had a population of 145,000.  By 2009, it has dropped to only 60,000.  On an average day, Venice has 60,000 visitors.  Therefore, if you visit Venice one out of every two people are tourists. 
  • If current fertility rates persist in Europe, the total population will go from 738 million to 452 million by the end of the century.  
  • In Japan there are more adult diapers sold now than there are baby diapers.
  • By 2040, it is projected that there will be one Japanese citizen over the age of 100 for every birth.
  • Due to sex-selective abortions and China's one-child policy, there are 123 boys born for every 100 girls in China.
  • By 2050, at current demographic trends, China's population will be falling by 20 million people every 5 years.
  • The overall U.S. fertility of 1.93 can be misleading.  There are vast differences when you slice and dice the numbers. The Hispanic fertility rate of the population was 2.35.  Whites are at 1.79 and Blacks at 1.96. Utah was at 2.60 (the highest state), Vermont was at 1.67 (the lowest state). Women who have not graduated from high school have fertility rate of 2.45. Women with graduate degrees are at 1.60.  The high fertility rate of Hispanics (as well as immigration) is a big reason why over half of the population increase in the U.S. between the 2000 and 2010 census was attributable to the increase in Hispanics in the country.

Why are birth rates falling the world over?

Last concludes there is no single reason. It is the confluence of a number of factors some of which are interrelated.

  1. The increased use of contraceptives (in particular the birth control pill).
  2. Abortion
  3. Increased education by women
  4. Later marriages
  5. Higher divorce rates
  6. Increased urbanization
  7. High land costs
  8. High education costs, particularly for college
  9. Increase in secularism and the decrease in religious influences
  10. Car seats, Social Security taxes and other factors that you never thought would mean fewer births
Why should we be concerned?

Economies need people.  They need them to invent things, build things and to buy things.  They need them to invest and innovate.  They need them to start new businesses.  They need them to pay taxes.  If you don't have a supply of new people replacing older people in a society you begin to shrink and you eventually shrivel away.  

When the old outnumber the young you are heading for big problems.  Who buys the real estate that has been built?  Does a 60-year want to start a business?  Most inventions and innovations have historically come from those in their 20's and 30's than in their 50's and 60's.  Thomas Edison invented the phonograph at age 30.  Alexander Graham Bell was 29 when he invented the telephone.  Steve Wozniak invented the Apple I computer at age 26. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were both age 25 when they incorporated Google.  If you don't replenish with enough young blood, you really do die as an economy and and as a society.

You get the picture?  

In the United States, if we stay on the current path, 1 out of every 5 Americans will be over age 65.  The population of these senior citizens will outnumber the population of age 14 and under by 13 million in the United States by 2050. It will be as if the whole country is very similar to the age structure in Florida today.

Do you get the picture?

Get Ready. Coming soon to a team near you!

Audition for the Miami Heat's Golden Oldies Hip-Hop Dance Team
Credit: NBA.com

There is so much great information and insights in "What To Expect When No One's Expecting" that I will have a follow-up post on the book in the near future.  Stay tuned and encourage someone to have a baby!

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