The media report on it every day. Sometimes it seems as if it talks about little else. Even elections around the world are being partly won and lost on the issue of global warming. But for decades a potentially far more
important and alarming new phenomenon has been emerging that the media and policy makers seem to have entirely missed: Demographic Winter
By Natalie Thomas
If you believe that overpopulation and its effects on the Earth’s environment is the biggest problem facing our world be prepared for a shock. Demographic Winter: the decline of the human family is a newly released documentary film set to shake up the way the world’s population concerns have been portrayed over the last forty years.
After analysing the demographic, social and economic data of the last century, and its correlating projections, an increasing number of the world’s leading demographers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, parliamentarians and diplomats, religious and non-religious alike and including at least one Nobel Prize-winning economist, have come to agreement that we are on the cusp of a ‘Demographic Winter’, a worldwide decline in birthrates and family structure that has already begun to cause global social, political and economic problems.
It is a problem more imminent than global warming and climate change, and its effects will be confounded for each new generation unless humanity takes action now.
The ‘Overpopulation Problem’
In 1968 Paul Ehrlich, an expert in butterflies, wrote a book entitled The Population Bomb. The book became a best-seller, causing widespread belief – verging on hysteria in some quarters – that in the 1970’s and 1980’s the world would become overpopulated, causing mass starvation due to a lack of resources.
Whilst his predictions have not come to pass, his claims that the world is overpopulated to the point of outstripping resources has been carried into the consciousness of many people who have in turn perpetuated numerous myths to combat the ‘overpopulation problem’, and who have used ‘overpopulation’ as the basis for supporting their agendas.
Now, if looking at the example of starving children in Ethiopia, you are thinking at this point that Ehrlich was right, perhaps reflect on the fact that it is a lack of property rights that is the main cause of famine, not overpopulation.
Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and North Korea, for example, all experienced massive famine when property rights were abolished. When people are not given access to property they have no access to water, livestock, subsistent farming and resources that they can use to trade for other resources that they need and they then cannot break into the world economy.
Another inconvenient truth is that only a small percentage of the world’s population consumes the majority of the world’s resources. Perhaps the problem is not overpopulation, but overconsumption, greed and an inability or unwillingness to share resources. Maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is how much of the world’s resources do we unnecessarily consume or waste every day?
The population topic is a heated one. There are many issues that are affected by it, such as reproductive rights, family rights, children’s rights, the rights of the elderly, eugenics, euthanasia, gay rights, the world economy, political strategies, educational philosophies, immigration issues, the status of first, second and third world countries and the impact on the environment. Thus, no matter what this film says it is bound to get a passionate reaction of some sort. So, what does it say?
Demographic Winter: the decline of the human family (part 1)
Demographic Winter explores the economic and social consequences of family decline and plummeting birthrates worldwide over the last forty years. Whilst the film’s editing is problematic, its main points are worthy of note.
The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) refers to the number of children a woman can expect to bear during her reproductive lifetime. The replacement level TFR is 2.1. This is the rate needed to maintain population equilibrium, where the population is neither growing nor declining.
Fifety-nine nations, with 44 per cent of the world’s population are below replacement level. Europe has a TFR of 1.3. The European Union estimates that by 2030 it will have a shortfall of 20 million workers. Even in this age of technology there are still concerns as to who will work in the factories, farms, offices and develop natural resources. Russia’s TFR is 1.17. Russia is losing 700,000 people per year and now regards the issue of population as the most important facing the nation. There are grave concerns as to the future of its manpower and national defence.
The United Nations originally estimated that by 2050 the world’s population will reach 11.5 billion. However in 2002, in light of the declining birthrates in both developed and developing countries, it reviewed its world population projections to be 8.9 billion in 2050.
Whilst some argue this is a positive, its effects will not be so joyous.
Although the population is set to increase, if current birthrates continue their trend, by 2050 there will be 248 million children less than there are today, leaving an increasingly aging population, where the number of people over 65 years of age outnumbers people aged 15 or below. Who will care for this greying population?
As a large portion of the world’s population ages and enters retirement the workforce will shrink. Every affected nation’s medical and social security system depends for its existence on taxpayer money.
To counter the diminishing workforce states will be forced to raise taxes meaning increased financial pressure on workers, or significantly reduced medical and social security benefits which will affect everyone, including the elderly, those with serious health problems, the unemployed, the disabled and their carers, single parents and families. Living standards will decrease, and societal co-operation will decrease. Will euthanasia be so voluntary?
The University of Chicago’s Dr Gary Becker, who won the 1992 Nobel Prize for Economics, also explains that population growth and demand is the engine of economic growth.
The constant decline in birthrates will stunt the growth of national economies.
As the consumer population decreases, production and product advancement will decrease due to a lack of demand and economies will follow.
Also, as the baby boom generation hits retirement and their spending peaks in 2009, the stockmarket will slow.
It will then continue to slow due to declining birthrates over the last 40 years, as it did with the Nikkei Dow in Japan.
Is Immigration the answer?
In a bid to subvert population decline and its consequences, developed nations have increased levels of immigration. This may be a necessity for developed countries, but there are concerns about its effects on developing nations.
As the young and skilled members of developing nations migrate to developed countries, their own educated, skilled and trained labour force dwindles.
As a result, their labour productivity falls along with the momentum of their economic productivity. Effectively, poorer countries are bailing out richer countries at their own expense, at a time when they need their economy to increase the most.
Added to this, as their younger population moves out, their population also begins to age, and children, whose fathers leave their families to work in developed countries are raised without their fathers, compounding social problems. Immigration may be good for developed countries but it is costing developing countries their future.
Causes of the Demographic Winter
Political economist Dr Nicholas Eberstadt explains that the number one cause of population growth is not the incessant breeding of the human species during the Baby Boom.
Rather, it is the advancement in science and medicine and the increase in health conditions that has stopped people dying like flies. But even despite these advances, Demographic Winter identifies why the birthrate is still falling.
While finances and lack of support play a role in people’s attitudes toward reproduction, it is actually not the major cause of declining fertility rates. It is something more deeply embedded. The Sexual Revolution has significantly changed the developed world’s attitudes to sex, marriage and children.
The aim of the Sexual Revolution was to open up the way for people to be sexually active without consequence, without future responsibility and without the need for the lifetime commitment of ‘patriarchal’ marriage. Contraception and abortion played a key role in this.
Today, however, it is clear that future generations are paying the price for this ‘liberation’. The widespread use and promotion of contraception and abortion has led to a subconscious belief that children are not a gift to help further the world but a burden on parents, society and the environment.
Happiness is seen to come from career, romance, travel and personal growth, not from commitment, monogamy and obligation to others. Happiness is about living for oneself.
These values have transferred to future generations, despite feeling that the previous generation has failed them. As a result, people have delayed children to pursue their careers and hobbies. Unstable sexual relationships have led to a delay in marriage and children.
Cohabitation rates have increased and in this less stable relationship people are having fewer children at a later age, if at all. Single motherhood has increased dramatically.
The focus on self-gratification, immediate happiness, avoidance of responsibility and desire for absolute freedom has been carried into marriages, leading to a rise in no-fault divorce.
With this possibility in mind people are reducing the number of children they have in case of the worst. Also, children from divorced marriages are having fewer children later in life when they feel more secure, or having no children for fear they will also have a failed marriage.
Can it be reversed?
Developed countries around the world are not only experiencing a decline in birthrates and economic strain, they are also experiencing a decline in family quality and thus life quality and social quality.
People are the backbone of any society and the family is the backbone of every person. Family is the basis of human capital, social capital and moral capital. The Demographic Winter documentary explores how restoration of the family is the best hope to combat the looming demographic winter. Meanwhile, child psychologists and sociologists are beginning to understand that marriage and family matters to the development of children.
Evidence is mounting to prove that a child thrives first and foremost when they experience their mother and father together in a relationship of solid permanent mutual love, support and co-operation.
In the stable environment of marriage, children have a strong sense of purpose, happiness, identity, commitment, generosity and confidence to be prepared to contribute to society, engage in the modern economy, and have children.
As one expert interviewed during the documentary says: “On every indicator that has ever been used, the intact family based on marriage comes out far ahead of all the other alternatives.”
Children raised outside the stable marital environment, such as cohabitation, divorce and single parenthood are much more likely to experience attention problems, poverty, neglect, abuse, depression and suicide.
In grappling with their interior problems they are on the backfoot in preparation to engage in the modern economy, societal life and ill-equipped for marriage and family life.
The sustainable development of any nation depends upon strong marriages. Such marriages are the key to raising stable children who will be the backbone to a societies life quality and economics. If we are to weather the impending demographic winter and its consequences, governments, interest groups and individuals must value and support strong marriages and strong families. In essence, attitudes must change.
For those who have used overpopulation and an anti-marriage mentality as the basis for pushing their agendas it is time to re-evaluate, or they risk impeding the task of addressing the consequences of the demographic winter and wasting opportunities for its solution. It is up to us to take action now to help our current 0-40 year olds and future generations stem the tide and reverse the course of the Demographic Winter.
Where Australia stands
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that in 2001 the Australian TFR reached its record low at 1.73. It has somewhat stabilised in recent years at 1.81. (see graph left)
Australia is below replacement levels, and has been since 1976 as increasing numbers of women chose to delay or forego having children and contraception and abortion rates increased. Australia is among the middle-ranked nations in TFR.
Australia currently has a relatively positive age structure, with only 13 per cent of Australia’s population over retirement age, and 20 per cent of the population aged 15 years or below.
Our birth rate is twice that of deaths, keeping our rates of ‘natural increase’ somewhat healthy. Our Numbers of Migration are increasing. Since 2001 divorce rates have been decreasing and marriage rates have been increasing, but 76.1 per cent of registered marriages include cohabitation prior to marriage.
The Australian Population Projection shows that if the TFR continues its current trend the population of Australia will grow to 33 million, but the population will be significantly aging.
By 2044, deaths will outnumber births. By 2051 26 per cent of the population will be at retirement age and only 16 per cent will be aged 15 or below.
In 2006 67 per cent of births were nuptial. This number is decreasing. 23 per cent of births were ex-nuptial. This is increasing.
Under these projections, Australia is doing better than other countries, but is still not far from the repercussions of Demographic Winter unless it changes its attitude toward marriage, family and children.
Natalie Thomas, a graduate of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne, is the founding Manager of
The Record Bookshop.