This book was just a side note in another book I was reading late last year but it had an interesting enough premise that it caught my eye - what if we have everything about population trends all wrong?
The authors claim that the population predictions coming from the UN are basically rubbish (the authors' experience and my own seems to be the same in that these UN projections drive the discussion when one is had on population growth). In short UN models have global population hitting 11 billion by 2100 and continuing to climb. The authors talked to a host of researchers across the globe, along with traveling to select nations themselves to do their own study, who stated the reality is far different - we'll likely top out at 9 billion before 2100 and once we hit that we'll start dropping fairly quickly.
The reason? A host of factors (urbanization, religiosity, education, income, etc.), once they become established in a population, push the fertility rate down. Once that rate hits a figure of 1.5 children per woman (a country needs 2.1 children per woman to simply maintain their population) it doesn't go back up. The result is a shrinking population and this trend, once limited to the most affluent first world nations, has reached even into the developing world faster than expected.
At first this probably sounds like a good thing. If one is concerned about Climate Change a shrinking population is a good thing. If one is concerned about the struggles in feeding all these people (from enough land to farm to sustainable practices with fishing) a shrinking population is a good thing.
The authors point out all the negatives that folks often overlook. The big one is that a shrinking population, especially one that's so heavily skewed towards older individuals as the coming years will be (a combination of folks living longer from previous population surges coupled to fewer young people from recent fertility drops), is terrible for the economy. In our consumer driven economies both purchasing power and innovation are traditionally driven by young and middle-aged consumers. Fewer people buying homes means home prices drop, etc.
Even though the authors didn't address it specifically this way the book was also an interesting argument to the dangers of nationalized systems within this reality. Shrinking populations means a smaller tax base to support everything, in particular public heath programs and pensions (the world average right now is a 6:1 ratio of working individuals to retirees... in some European countries this ratio has already dropped to 2:1 and is still falling). What they did touch on indirectly is that with this added burden on the fewer young people it drives the fertility rate even lower ("why would I want to bring a child into this environment?").
So, when hearing this, the first thought would seem to be focus on national systems or laws that encourage having kids. Unfortunately... they don't work (or rather, the ones tried so far don't work). The authors touched on some of the better systems in place in Europe and in short they do push the fertility rate up but not enough (like from 1.5 to 1.6, far below sustainment rate of 2.1) and at great cost.
For Americans (and Canadians) the book is actually kind of promising, however. The authors spent a fair bit of time on the calamity facing China after their disastrous one child policy was left in place for so long. China could, under some of the models the authors saw, dip down to as low as 600 million by 2100. By that same time the combined population of America and Canada could be in the 550-600 million mark. (There's also the issue facing China in the coming years of the gender inequality in their population skewing so heavily towards men.)
The authors touched on the coming century being America's in large part because our population will continue to grow (along with Canada's). The only reason our population and Canada's is growing, however, is because we welcome immigrants. Fertility rate of natural born Americans (and Canadians) is below the 2.1 replacement rate (though higher than in most other first world countries). Our populations are only growing from immigrants coming in and having large families. Their offspring, however, acclimate to the norm and have fewer children. Thus, our population growth will only be sustained through continued immigration.
Welcoming immigrants (the authors touched on legal ones) is something most country's across the world don't do even in the face of a shrinking population. As such our economy will grow (immigrants have a host of positive traits for an economy) and we'll face fewer of the strains other first world nations will be dealing with.
There were some other interesting side discussions as well. For example, from a cultural perspective the reality is certain groups will likely disappear in the coming few hundred years. If you're a small ethnic group or country and your fertility rate is low you only have two options. Either you welcome in new people from outside the group that, even if they try their best to adopt your culture, will still change it in the process or you simply let yourselves die off. That begs the next question... is it a real tragedy if the latter happens? The authors were a bit somber on this last point but I'm struggling to see an issue here. Maybe it's the fact that I'm American and our culture is only a few hundred years old. Or maybe it's the old History major in me looking back on how all cultures continue to evolve... nothing lasts forever.
Anywho, amazing little book. Quick read. Highly recommend.
Edited by Skywalkre, 03 May 2019 - 1444 PM.