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THIS BOOK is about demography, that is, the study of populations, that is, human beings, that is, people.
For at least 650 years, since the time of the Black Plague, the total number of people on earth has headed in only one direction: up. But soon-probably within a few decades-global population will level off and then likely fall for a protracted period of time. The number of people on earth will be headed down, "depopulating."
Why? Birthrates and fertility rates ultimately yield total population levels. And never have birth and fertility rates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for so long, in so many places, so surprisingly.
Depopulation is already proceeding in many of the modern developed nations. Europe is now losing about 700,000 people each year, a figure that will grow to about 3 million a year, or more, by midcentury. Russia alone is losing close to a million people each year. Within the next few years Japan will begin losing population. The steep trend toward fewer children per woman in the modern nations has been near universal. Only the United States is an exception, one which will be discussed in many places in this book. These trends may have an intense personal relevance for many Americans.
But what'sgoing on is not restricted to the well-to-do modern nations. The poorer, Less Developed Countries (LDCs), still have higher birth and fertility rates than the rich countries. But rates in the LDCs are typically falling at a more rapid rate than ever experienced in the rich countries. As recently as 1970 the typical woman in an LDC nation bore 6.0 children per woman. Today, in the midst of a fertility free-fall, the rate is about 2.8 or 2.7 children per woman and rapidly continuing downward. Such patterns have been observed in India, Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, and, critically, Mexico, only to begin a long list. This is not idle speculation. These are not simple straight-line projections. As we shall see, much of it is already pretty well baked into the cake of the future, baked into the New Demography.
Why the continuing decline? One example: Billions of people still live in rural poverty. They are migrating to cities, where fertility and family size are invariably lower than in rural areas. The results are already inscribed in official United Nations projections. Moreover, I believe the UN is most likely understating the actual speed of the current fertility decline.
The New Demography is here. It relates to most everything involved in human activity, and its consequences can only intensify. What is happening will affect parents, grandparents, and children everywhere. It will affect every business in every country. After all, the numbers of customers, or lack thereof, is at the essence of commerce and economics, of buying and selling. Population is at the center of our environmental situation. This includes the air we breathe, the water we drink, and perhaps the level at which we set the thermostat. It relates to traffic jams. It relates to what is often called suburban sprawl, or the absence of it. Population holds a fine mirror to many human values and how they change.
Even before 9/11, and certainly since then, the New Demography has had a great impact on geopolitics-the high-stakes games that nations play. The United States is now called "the sole superpower." It also has a unique demographic signature: America will grow while all the other modern nations will shrink. What will America be then? The only omnipower? Or a muscle-bound polyglot, a bickering and overextended giant player on the global scene, harming itself and others?
After 9/11, as I worked on this book, I watched television, read the newspapers and magazines, went to seminars, interviewed experts. Something was missing. President Bush said we have to save our civilization. If you are engaged in speculating about how to save civilization, demography is an important dimension, indeed a critical one. But I had the feeling that most commentators don't know demography from pornography. Even some expert demographers have no idea of how rapidly things have changed.
The New Demography may well intensify the cry that America is "going it alone"-not because we want to, but rather because we have to. Our principal allies, the people in Europe and Japan, are bearing almost unbelievably few children.
How will it all turn out? The best may yet to be, with America in the lead. Alternatively, America's demographic wave may crash on the sharp rocks of immigration and separatism, other aspects of the current demographic situation. And as America goes, so goes the world. (For the record, early on, I think it will work out pretty well.) The starkest aspects of the new global demographic era I write about will probably be of limited duration, most likely playing themselves out in the course of this century. Many readers will likely see much of the process in their lifetimes.
Demography is a curious field of study. Everyone knows that population is important, but if I asked you to name a famous demographer, you'd probably say, "I don't know," or "Malthus." And what about Malthus? Two hundred years ago he wrote his famous essay explaining that population growth would outpace food supply, causing famine and tragedy. He was wrong, and acknowledged it.
It is often said that "demography is destiny." That's an overstatement, but it's nonetheless crucial. If we are aware of the accelerating trends, we may want to try to shape our demography and consequently help shape our destiny. As a general matter, not many people are aware of what's going on, including the high and mighty in the policy community.
The advent of the New Demography portends a different world. Joseph Chamie, director of the UN Population Division (UNPD), puts it this way: There was the Industrial Revolution. There was The Information Age. Now there is the Demographic Revolution.
At root the situation is fairly simple: the numbers of people on earth will grow by an ever-diminishing rate, level off, then begin shrinking. World population now numbers about six billion. That number will grow to eight to nine billion, depending on whose numbers you accept. Then population will decrease, perhaps by many billions. What is not so simple is how life plays out as this happens-who does it help and who does it hurt; why is it happening; can we do anything about it, should we, and if so, what.
I try to avoid technical terms and a waterfall of charts and statistics in this book, but some are necessary and they are here.
This book has an unusual history. In 1987 I wrote The Birth Dearth, in which I looked at the "Total Fertility Rate." Simply put, the TFR represents the average number of children born per woman over the course of her childbearing years. If the average woman in a given country bears three children, the TFR for that country is 3.0. The TFR is the keystone calculation of demography, and I would argue that it is the single most important measurement of humankind. Moreover, it comes with some precision.
After all, economic projections and predictions can change on a dime when Thailand's currency hits a wall or an "Asian Contagion" roils the markets. Political science is an oxymoron, as many practitioners will cheerfully admit. (In the spring of 1992, during the Democratic primary elections, many political scholars and pundits explained why candidate Bill Clinton was "toast.") But demography has much more predictive value. Demographers can tell you in 2004 with some certainty how many twenty-year-old potential mothers there will be in 2025.
How so? Because those potential mothers of the future would already have been born twenty years ago. They have been counted by censuses in most all areas of the world and put in a statistical "cohort," that is, the number of persons in a given age group, say, from age zero to age ten. Then-surprise!-every twelve months, like clockwork, the surviving members of the cohort are one year older. The deaths of infants and children who never reach their own age of reproduction are then factored into the equation.
Alas, we do not know everything about those twenty-year-old potential mothers. We know roughly how many there will be in 2025, but we don't know how many children they will decide to bear. In the poor countries they may have 3.0 children per woman, or perhaps only 2.0, or less. Still, we do know something fairly definite about the future, and that is not to be gainsaid.
By the mid-1980s, when I wrote The Birth Dearth, something quite remarkable was already happening in the demographic arena. Women in the "modern" countries were bearing substantially fewer children than are required to "replace" a population-that is, fewer children than would be needed just to keep a population at a stable level over an extended time (not counting net gain or loss from immigration or increased or decreased longevity).
The "replacement" level in modern countries is a Total Fertility Rate of 2.1 children per woman. That is the so-called "magic number" in demography. Why 2.1? Sooner or later a mother and father die. If the parents are not "replaced" by two children-plus one-tenth of a child to account for those children who do not live to reach their own age of reproduction-over time the population declines. (There are other factors as well.)
When I wrote The Birth Dearth, the average Total Fertility Rate in the "Developed Regions," as the UN labels modern countries, had sunk to 1.8 children per woman. The rate was about the same in the United States. That number was about 14 percent below the 2.1 replacement value. But there was something else: the TFR in the Developed Regions had been falling steadily for thirty-five years. This was no short-term trend.
That level of births for a large group of nations was the lowest ever recorded, except during times of temporary catastrophe. This trend would affect commerce. It would affect pensions. It had vast environmental implications. It might affect the geopolitical balance of power and influence. It was ignored.
But The Birth Dearth was not ignored. The book attracted a great deal of attention, positive and negative. Steve Forbes, in his eponymous magazine, wrote, "Here is a book that will join the ranks of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring." I liked that, but, alas, it was not to be.
Some of the negative comments about The Birth Dearth indicated that I might be a sexist, a cold warrior, a racist, a polluter, and, worst, a straight-linist. (Demographers correctly like to emphasize that projections aren't predictions. I believe I was just following the data.) Even one of the most influential men in world history, Paul Ehrlich, the author of the The Population Bomb, deigned to weigh in on one of his many fields of expertise: the demographic aspects of military policy. There was no link, he wrote, between population size and military power, asking: "How many able-bodied, healthy young men are required to push a few buttons?" (Answer: In America, about $450 billion worth of defense spending each year, coming from the taxes of about 300 million people.) As we shall see, straightforward demographic numbers can engender mighty arguments.
I fought my fight on this matter and moved on. But during the late 1980s and through the 1990s I kept half an eye cocked to the emerging demographic picture. Periodically I wrote a column on demographic matters. I enjoyed it; the topic has been my first and most enduring love as a writer. (Too much of our politics repeats itself and becomes routine; demography in our era has been kaleidoscopic.)
As the century closed and millennial fever mounted, I decided to adopt a new dimension to my personal regimen of the study of demography. Every thousand years, I vowed, I would look with fresh eyes at the new edition of my favorite book, the UN's biennial World Population Prospects. To the uninitiated it is a huge scramble of numbers. For demographers, and for demographic hangers-on like me, it is the bedrock of the field, containing an array of data from the 192 largest nations and areas (those with populations of over 100,000 people). Based on the data, it presents four different population projections for each nation: "high," "medium," "low," and "constant-fertility variant."
In early 2001, when I scanned the new 2000 edition, I was wide-eyed. This was no plain vanilla birth dearth. The bottom had fallen out.
First, the already low European and Japanese rates were sinking with dizzying speed. The 1.8 children per woman of the 1980s were projected at 1.3 children per woman in the 2000-2005 time frame-that's now. Repeat: from 1.8 to 1.3 in a single generation. That 1.3 European rate is 38 percent below the replacement level. That level is unheard-of, previously unimaginable. No serious demographer would plausibly have predicted such a sharp decline even a decade earlier.
But most Europeans seemed to yawn at this news. After all, for decades the bedrock UN demographic projection had been stating that over the course of the next half-century or so the European and Japanese TFRs would likely drift back upward to the 2.1 replacement level. This projection was based on absolutely no evidence. Nor would a projected population rebound likely come from massive immigration. By American standards, the European countries had taken in only moderate numbers of immigrants, mostly Muslims-and for the most part typically abhorred what they had done, or what had been done to them.
The principal rationale of the UN Population Division seemed to be, "These kinds of low and lower rates in Europe can't continue or these countries will go out of business." The UN demographic record-keepers treated the Japanese in roughly the same manner-that is, they projected a resurgence from 1.3 to about 2.1 children per woman by the mid-twenty-first century. (And the Japanese despise immigrants, probably even more so than do the Europeans.)
The second eye-opener from World Population Prospects was that a major abnormality seemed to be taking shape. While the fertility rate in the modern nations fell sharply, in the United States the rate moved up-not quite to the replacement level, but up. How long it will stay up remains to be seen, and we should be careful in thinking about it. But for now America is quite clearly the most baby-making of the world's major modern nations. Moreover, Americans take in a solid number of immigrants, higher by far than do the Europeans or Japanese. One estimate has it that America takes in as many legal immigrants as the entire rest of the world together.
Thus the United States, principally because of immigration, was growing steadily and would continue to do so. The UN medium variant projection called for about 400 million Americans by the year 2050, up from 283 million in 2000. (The first U.S. Census, taken in 1790, showed 3.9 million people.) As I saw it, through my much-worn magenta lenses, this was yet further evidence that America should be seen as the world's most exceptional nation, with much of human destiny resting on its shoulders.
And even that wasn't the biggest part of the story. Another potent trend, apparent in that 2000 volume, was becoming ever more evident. Many people interested in public affairs have an inchoate notion about low fertility rates, though they may have a small sense of the recent magnitude of the Euro-Japanese decline. But of the recent demographic trends in motion in the nonmodern countries, those that used to be called "Third World," there is almost total ignorance. Most anyone will tell you that population is "exploding" in these places. Indeed, I had dealt with this in The Birth Dearth but in the context of the upside, not the downside. The TFR for all the Less Developed Countries had dropped from six children in the first half of the 1960s to about four children in the early 1980s. That's a big drop. It was encouraging; I duly noted it would continue downward. But four children per woman is still far above replacement level and would yield nothing but substantially more population in those poorer countries, for a long time.
<%TOC%>Contents PART ONE. WHAT HAPPENED AND WHY? 1. The Story of This Book....................5
Excerpted from FEWER by Ben J. Wattenberg Copyright © 2004 by Ben J. Wattenberg. Excerpted by permission.
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|1||The story of this book||5|
|2||And then there were many fewer||19|
|3||Less developed, less fertility||39|
|4||America the exceptional : the baby makers||60|
|5||America the exponential : immigrant takers||67|
|6||The culture of alarmism||83|
|8||The graybe boom||115|
|12||Is there an immigration solution?||191|