Saturday, November 21, 2015

Demographic Warning: "Too many places will have too few people"

An op-ed at the Orange Country Register about the "birth dearth" in industrialized nations. Among other things, it notes:
Most affluent countries and those on the way to prosperity, such as China, all face the same basic dilemma: an aging population and shrinking workforce. China, notes the U.N., by 2050 will suffer a net loss of 60 million people under 15 years of age, approximately the size of Italy’s population. China at the same time will gain nearly 190 million people age 65 and over, approximately the population of Pakistan, which is the world’s sixth most-populous country.

It seems likely that the policy shift away from “one child” may be too late to have much impact. Gavin Jones, a demographer based at the National University of Singapore, traces China’s demographic implosion less to government policy and more to factors such as rapid urbanization and skyrocketing housing prices. Indeed, expensive, prosperous cities like Shanghai and Beijing now have among the lowest fertility rates ever recorded – near 0.7 children per woman, or one-third the replacement rate.

Chinese couples reluctant to have one child do not seem likely to opt for two. Indeed, a 2013 easing of restrictions on family size for limited populations elicited far fewer takers; barely 12 percent of eligible families even applied to take advantage of the change.

Overall, governments are notoriously unsuccessful at getting people to change their basic behaviors. Like China, other East Asian countries – South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore – used to worry about overpopulation. Now, they try to encourage births by offering elaborate cash gifts, subsidies and pro-family changes in tax policy, but they still have failed to halt the decline of the the traditionally familial culture that long defined Confucian-infused societies.

Japan is the poster child for this East Asian demographic transition. Fertility there has been well below replacement level for a generation. The resulting economic effects of its plunging workforce and lack of new families are painfully clear, and the trajectory is not promising. Japan since 1990 has had more people over age 65 than under 15, but by 2050 there will be three times as many.

More remarkable still, there will be more Japanese over age 80 than under 15. Japan’s population – now 127 million – is expected to fall to 108 million by 2050. By 2100, according to the U.N., the population could be 84.5 million, but Japan’s National Institute of Population projects a drop to roughly 60 million.

Not-so-dissimilar demographics might be evolving in other prosperous areas of the world, if not for migration. Immigrants and their children have allowed the U.S. and Australia to stay close to the replacement rate, and have kept Canada’s from imploding.

European countries, logically, also are seeking out new labor sources. But this strategy clearly threatens the long-term social harmony and political stability of these traditionally homogeneous countries. Germany within a few years could be 20 percent Muslim, which would represent, notes Uwe Brandl, president of the Bavarian Association of Municipalities “a demographic shift of epic proportions, one that will change the face of Germany forever.”
 Unlike many other articles on the topic, the author of the foregoing actually acknowledges that some of the "youth bulge" nations that currently account for immigration to the First World--particularly from the Middle-East--are also facing rapidly declining fertility rates. The exception that currently still sticks out is Africa:
... Yet unlike many other youth-bulge areas, Africa’s fertility rates remain high even today. This means that, between now and 2100, that continent, and mainly its sub-Saharan areas, will supply some 83 percent of the world’s population growth. Impoverished Niger, Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia now possess some of the highest fertility rates in the world. In 2050, roughly a quarter of Africa’s population, notes the World Bank, will be ages 15 to 30, twice the percentage in developed countries.

Unlike the aging parts of the world, Africa’s dilemma remains too many babies and not enough money. Projections of the continent’s demographic future can be downright frightening. By 2100, according to the U.N., Nigeria will replace the United States as the third-largest nation, with approximately 750 million people, more than quadrupling its present population.
However, even these projections, like past projections about Latin America and the Middle-East, may be overly optimistic because they ignore that increased urbanization leads to declining birth rates. The article notes, for instance, that South Africa is only at replacement birth levels.

The author suggests that the solution will be to push more technical employment and education (especially to women) in third-world countries, and shift jobs from resource exploitation. In reality, this is not solution, though. If the first-world countries will require immigrants to support their public pension systems, then shifting the higher paying technical or industrial jobs to those countries is of no help to those first-world countries. Similarly, education and an urbanized work force will result in declining birth rates in those third-world countries. In short, it simply kicks the can down the road.

Since only people of strong religious faith continue to have larger families in first-world country, the meek surely shall inherit the earth.

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