Birthrates and the Future

iStock_000005176232XSmallBirth rates fascinate me.
, as somebody once said.

As prosperity increases, birthrates decline.  This appears to be a universal rule.  It takes roughly 2.2 births per female for both parents to reproduce themselves.  More, and population rises.  Less, and it declines.

The birth rate in the United States is above 2.2, but this exception only proves the rule.  The highest birthrates in the U.S. are among recent immigrants from less prosperous countries.  Among other people, the birthrate is below 2.2.

Italy has the lowest birthrate in Europe, despite the popular image of large families with many beaming bambinos.  If the trend continues, someday statistically there’ll be no Italians.  The Germans are about even.

What about other broader impacts?  Somebody is always predicting the world’s population will overwhelm the food supply.  But if you assume spreading prosperity, won’t the whole world’s population start shrinking someday and keep shrinking until there’s more food than we need?

Then there’s global warming.  If we’re doing it, won’t there be less of it if there are less of us?

The prosperity factor looks like a wild card to me.  I’ve never seen a decent explanation of how prosperity can increase or even continue in the face of population decline.  If it can’t, prosperity’s eventually going down.

Will birthrates go up if prosperity goes down?  I doubt it.  Reliable contraception and women’s liberation aren’t likely to disappear even if prosperity does.

Diehard environmentalists are sometimes accused of hating people.  Fewer people would probably mean more wilderness, so maybe they’re in luck.   I’m not sure about the rest of us.

Stan Prowse


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