‘Demography is destiny.’ Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon
In 1825 the world’s population reached, for the first time, the figure of 1 billion with a doubling of the population 100 years later and on to 5.3 billion in 1990. It stands today at 7.5 billion.
A demographic transition is taking place worldwide but at different rates. Seven per cent of the world’s population is over 65, and this is unevenly spread, with. Africa has the world’s youngest population, with Europe and Japan harboring the smallest number of children.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to number 9.5 billion, assuming present trends continue, at which time the population of the developing countries will be 6 times larger than that of the developed countries due to higher fertility rates. The increase in the world’s population will be identical to the number of people on the entire planet back in 1950.
In Africa, some countries will see their population triple, requiring the building, each week, of a town of a million inhabitants.
On the other hand, in East Asia, the birth rate is collapsing. China and Japan have among the world’s lowest birth rates – Hong Kong’s is below 1 – and in Japan 14% of the population is over 65 years old. At the present fertility rate of 1.25 child per woman, the country’s population will be of only 60 million in 2100.
China’s population is also forecast to decrease to less than 20% of the world’s population but the country will have 25% of the world’s senior citizens.
A sustained fertility rate of 1.3 means that, over a century, a country would lose 75% of its population.
Europe’s declining birth rates
Over the past three centuries, Europe’s population multiplied fivefold and if you include the population of European origin that immigrated worldwide, we are led into a sevenfold increase.
The main reason for this increase was due to a reduction of mortality. At the beginning, this decline was gradual and ascribed to a more productive agriculture, trade that enriched European nations, the industrial revolution, advances in medical knowledge, better nutrition, a more relaxed lifestyle and better public order. Starting in the nineteenth century, a drastic reduction of mortality of infectious and contagious disease to nearly zero increased life expectancy at birth from 35 years to 70 years.
Other contributing factors for this increase were the decline in female fertility as women entered the professional world in ever larger numbers. They also had easy access to birth control methods.
The number of working-age adults increases and the economy grows as not only the economic contribution of the population increases, but also the social contributions decrease. This is called the ‘demographic dividend’. It is, however, at this stage that the state must undertake productive investments such as in education and health infrastructure in particular to support old age.
Birth rates increased in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, but remained below that of other parts of the world. European population was always constrained by the use of traditional birth control methods, a low number of extra-marital births, a late marriage age and a fairly large percentage of unmarried persons.
Low birth rates are a worldwide trend, and if every woman will only have a single child, the world’s population in 2075 will be of 1.6 billion. Europe, in particular, is suffering, and is forecast to continue to suffer of depopulation. Its present population of 740 million is expected to drop to 707 million by 2050 and of 646 million by 2100.
For a population to remain stable, the total fertility rate – the number of children a woman will have in her lifetime should be of 2.1. In eastern and southern Europe, the figure is presently of 1.3, and in some areas has dwindled to 1. In Germany, nearly 30% of the women born in 1960 have not had any children. Russia is losing half its population every 40 years and its underpopulated large land mass could be seen as an invitation by China.
When birth rates eventually decreased, they brought about a new vision of the family, with women succeeding in roles other than that of wives and mothers and with reduced coital rates. Fertility was increasingly controlled by females rather than males.
Urbanization played a leading role in the drop in birth rates. The smaller family became the reference in Europe first, and then spread to many other countries. Urban couples did not have the social pressure that rural families had, of having children rapidly becoming economic contributors.
In an urban environment, individual success is important and family ties lose their primary role as education, health and employment is ensured by institutions other than the family. Children become a cost rather than an asset.
This led to a demographic transition of low birth rates and long life expectancy which helped the population of Europe and of the world grow.
The transition normally starts with low child mortality; children being the first beneficiaries of increased survival. In Europe, today, nearly all births occur in a hospital environment with a large number of precautions taken including for premature children.
In Europe, the countries that were rich at the end of the Second World War, such as in Scandinavia and North-West Europe, saw the number of traditional families decline as women had satisfying employment opportunities and individualism was on the rise. Everything was postponed, from leaving school to dying. Postponing births eventually results in women being too old to be pregnant.
Professional women tend to cheat more, divorce more often, have fewer children, and more often than non-professional women feel sorry of having married and having had children.
Women concentrating on their careers find the stress of caring for children – which, in today’s society takes an increasing amount of parents’ time as well as a change in the relationship between parents – a burden, particularly if the household work – usually considered as a low-level type of work – is not shared with the male parent. Women have a major decision to make as to whether they pursue a career, marry or build a family. They will select cohabitation as against marriage if they believe that being married will hinder their possibilities of career advancement. Investments in child care infrastructure and a balance between life and work lead to increased birth rates. Women must have the possibility of returning to their jobs after a pregnancy and maternal leave.
Women pursuing careers may study for long periods of time and therefore they will have their first child at an advanced age, thus limiting the number of children they will have. Mothers having their children at a more mature age translates into older grandmothers, if they would still be alive, who may not be able to assist their daughters or grand-daughters. The non-availability of this care may reduce even further the propensity of women to have children.
Increasingly they may not want to mate, preferring to enrich their lives financially and intellectually, or will select low-fertility partners. They may find there is a lack of desirable partners. Pressure put on by media as the looks of women, slim and a canon of beauty, may also lead women to opt for a slimmer look to the detriment of family formation or even partnership and sex with a man.
In the Mediterranean countries where family values were supported by culture and governments, the transition took place later. In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.’
In Central and Eastern Europe where communism collapsed and with it went the allowances and a large number of free services, families hesitate to assume the burden of a child.
As societal pressure is determinant in defining the number of children a couple will have, a smaller family became the social norm. It fulfilled in a minimalistic manner the social pressure to have children.
One of the most important elements in social pressure is religion and all religions encourage a strong birth rate. Hence, in industrial societies, as religiousness wanes, so does the size of families.
A theory suggests that as children survive, there is no need for families to have ‘replacement’ children in case of death and the child become the child-king. Another theory proposes that since children no longer look after their parents, they do not need to bear the cost of bearing them. A third theory proposes than in resource allocation, families today prefer spending their funds on matters other than raising children which they will have only if the benefits outweigh the costs. The benefits are essentially emotional and a response to societal demands including that of creating new networks such as with other school parents and later in time with the in-laws. The costs have their origin in education, the purchase of food and other products, and possible tensions between the parents as the fathers concentrate on their professional activity to create wealth for their family, which often translates in absences from the family.
Job instability has also had a negative impact on the willingness of couples to start a family.
Women’s libido appears to be on the wane and men’s sperm count is decreasing and the spermatozoids are less active probably due to the chemicals absorbed in the diet. Obesity in both men and women also affects their fertility.
The large number of leisure activities easily available and the ideas that freedom and personal development are essential to a happy, productive life are major distractors and inhibitors to starting a family. The ubiquitous nature of erotic and pornographic images leads men to view their companions as exclusively a sex image and not a partner with whom to establish a family. At the other end of the scale an ever increasing number of men have opted out of sex altogether.
Education, in turn, impacts fertility in a number of ways. It allows reaching a better status and material conditions, it improves the ability of women to select the right partner who has the same level of education and may also be reluctant to have a large family, and it leads to better informed women and therefore larger use of contraceptives, and increases the opportunity costs of childbearing.
Financial issues are also a hindrance to starting or expanding a family. Educated couples may also prefer to concentrate their wealth, during their lifetime or through inheritance, on a single child.
Increasingly, in an unstable world, would-be parents, particularly younger couples, are afraid of conceiving children in what could be a very different and dangerous world.
The availability of contraceptives and the legalization of abortion have also been contributing factors. They not only enabled women to postpone pregnancies but also sharply reduced unwanted pregnancies.
In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.
The one population segment that is growing in Europe is the Muslim population that, even though it averages only 5% of the population, with the notable exception of Russia where it reaches 15% and France with 10%, may eventually bring about major changes in society as their culture is essentially very difficult from the permissive and liberal European culture. if Muslims maintain a high fertility rate, we could witness a repeat of what is believed to have taken place with the Christians in the early days of the church in Rome, with a small group rapidly gaining in importance and leading the emperor himself to convert.
However, the fertility of Moslems in Europe is declining rapidly, adjusting itself to that of the native European population, and thus showing that immigration is not a viable alternative to stop population decline. Migration does, however, contribute to replace an ageing workforce.
Nearly 50 million migrants will have to be admitted to the European Union by 2050 for the population to remain stable. For the retirement benefits to be maintained at their present level of 4 active persons per pensioner, the figure for migrants is even higher, reaching 13 million a year. Presently there are 11 million migrants in Europe and an unknown number of illegals.
There are other ways through which this decline could be halted. One of them is through the entrance of candidate countries which, like Turkey, have a growing demography.
As birth rates decline, due to personal choices, both the number of children and the population, over time, shrinks. The working age population decreases and fertility declines even further. Eventually there is the third transition period with all age segments of the population declining.
An ageing society
In the world today, for the first time in human history, old people outnumber the young. In developed countries, 20% of the population is older than 60. Worldwide, 1% of the population is over 80 and, being the fastest growing age group, is due to reach 4% by 2050.
Since the middle of the 19th century, life expectancy has increased by 3 months every year, leading to the forecast that by 2060, it will have reached 100 years and possibly even higher if life-extension drugs or technologies are developed.
Europe has the world’s oldest population, with 22% being over 60, and 1% being older than 80, this last figure is expected to reach 4% by 2050.
Women still have a longer life expectancy than men, but the difference is narrowing and may not be sustainable over the long term. Smoking by women, together with the adoption of social habits that used to be reserved to men, is believed to be the major culprit in allowing this difference to narrow.
While the average sex ratio at birth favors males by approximately 105 boys to 100 girls, the ratio reverses itself with age as women have a longer life expectancy than men. For the population over 60, the figures are of 82 men for 100 women and decreases to 55 men for 100 women at age 80. The ratio at these older ages is even lower in Europe with 69 men per 100 women at the age of 60, and 42 men per 100 women at the age of 80. One of the reasons for the difference between Europe and the rest of the world is the large number of young men who died during the Second World War.
Explanations for the longer life expectancy abound. One of them is that the present generation that is retiring is the first to have known both antibiotics and vaccines. They also received a better nutrition as food prices decreased.
Economic and political issues
All the models indicate that economic growth can only take place if there is demographic growth.
Several countries have introduced pro-natal policies such as the financing of day-care centers, fiscal advantages, payments at birth, etc. Research has shown that these policies incite families to have children earlier, but not to have more children.
Older persons are conservative and risk-averse. Therefore it is more than likely that entrepreneurial actions will decrease. Savings will also be on the decrease and lead to higher interest rates increasing the cost of investments. Inheritances, except for the wealthy, will be paltry, leading the younger generations to have reduced wealth.
Pensions and health care costs will soar as the number of people gainfully employed shrinks compared to the number of elderly retired. The increase in the pension and health care budget for France, for instance, is set to increase by 13% and reach five times what the country spends on defense.
Health care for older people is an expensive undertaking, particularly in the treatment of terminal diseases such as the setting of implants and cancer, both of which are a common occurrence on people over 65. A solution to curb these rising costs is to reduce reimbursements or increase insurance premiums or taxes but there is a limit to the acceptance by the tax payer of new increases. Another option is a strict limit set by the government on prices of medications and hospital equipment as is the case in Japan.
As the workforce will decrease, employment of older people may be encouraged by governments through the removal of social contributions and other social payments from corporations, through investments in lifelong learning and by applying penalties on corporations discriminating on the basis of age.
On the positive side, however, new opportunities for employment and for entrepreneurs will be created by the so-called silver economy. These relate to new products and employment in areas as diverse as health care, assisted domestic living, education, travel, spas, etc.
However, even if a number of these urgent measures are applied, the relative importance of Europe in the world will no doubt diminish.
Another action European governments could take to help slow population decline, is to reduce the number of preventable deaths due to alcoholism, car accidents, suicide and smoking for persons under 65 years of age.
Forecasting not being an exact science, there are several forecasts as to the future population of the world and of Europe.
One suggests that future fertility rates will vary, depending on the country, between 1.35 to 2.35 children per woman, leading to a world population in 2030 of between 7.7 and 10.6 billion.
By 2050, Asia’s population will be of over 5 billion and that of Africa nearly 2 billion. India will be the most populated country with 1.4 billion inhabitants.
The world’s population of over 60 will double to 22% of the total population by 2050 and will be larger than the number of children and in the developed countries will be twice the number of children.
Europe’s population is expected to drop by 7 million between now and 2050 and it will only represent 7% of the world’s population in spite of the fact that the populations of France and Great Britain are expected to continue to grow. The countries with the sharpest growth will be Romania and Croatia.
The European continent appears to be moving to an empty land populated mainly by older persons who will sink into poverty as the number of working people decreases. Should large waves of immigrants or the introduction into the EU of Turkey be allowed replace the existing population, European culture will disappear.
Goodbye Europeans, Farewell.