That the world is overpopulated has been a staple of education and media speculation for more than forty years. Governments across the world made fertility reduction a priority as early as the 1960s.
The result is that for the first time in human history, mankind has purposely reduced fertility. According to UN statistics, 61 countries now face the phenomenon known as “below replacement fertility,” meaning that these countries will eventually begin to shrink in population. The ramifications of this project are only now being considered.
One of the great allies in the movement for fertility reduction has been the major media. In recent months, however, major media outlets in the United States have begun relating the hardships many nations now face because of fertility reduction. This comes mostly as a reaction to shifts in thinking from many scholarly sources.
Almost two years ago, the UN sponsored an expert meeting in which demographers from around the world sounded the alarm about “below replacement fertility.”
Most of their criticism stemmed from economic questions related to an aging population. Antonio Golini of Italy expressed fear that his country, whose fertility rate has dropped to 1.15 children per woman, well below the required number of 2.1, could no longer find the workers to drive the Italian economy. He reported that Italy will have to rely increasingly on immigrant labor. In the same conference, Jean-Claude Chesnais of France advanced a veiled moral argument when he suggested that “a society cannot be successful without the presence of children.”
Only a year ago influential American businessman Peter Peterson published “Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America — and the World,” a book that has frightened policy makers on several continents. “Gray Dawn” explains how the rapidly aging populations in the industrial countries may foment the collapse of medical and social pension systems and may eventually bring on intergenerational warfare.
In August, the message of these scholars has reverberated into the pages of the influential New York Times. Within days of each other, two major stories appeared in the Times warning of the consequences of rapid fertility reduction.
The Aug. 1 Times reported that Japanese society is facing very serious problems because of long-term fertility reduction. With a fertility rate of only 1.4 children per woman, not long ago Japan became the first country to have more people over 65 than under 15.
The Times called Japan “the world's second largest economy” at the same time it is “one of the world's least fertile and fastest aging societies.”
It is expected that the aged will rise from one-sixth of the population to one-third in the next 50 years. The Times concludes that each Japanese worker will “have to increase output to make up for the growing numbers who are idle.”
In a related article a few days later, the Times said that because of rapidly aging populations workers will have to start retiring much later and that industrial countries “will have to accept a loss of productivity, creativity and even general economic health.”
The rapidly aging populations in the industrial countries may foment the collapse of medical and social pension systems.
Austin Ruse is director of theCatholic Family & Human Rights Institute.