Mind the Baby GapEspecially since the very same paper published the below op-ed five weeks ago.
by Steven Philip Kramer
Although overpopulation plagues much of the developing world, many developed societies are now suffering from the opposite problem: birthrates so low that each generation is smaller than the previous one. Much of southern and eastern Europe, as well as Austria, Germany, Russia and the developed nations of Southeast Asia, have alarmingly low fertility rates, with women having, on average, fewer than 1.5 children each, well below the replacement level.
At the same time, life expectancies in those places have reached record highs. As a result, the dependency ratio — the ratio of the working population to the nonworking population — has become increasingly unfavorable, and it is projected to get more so. Making matters worse is that economic growth gets harder to achieve as workers age and their ranks dwindle; aging societies will have a tough time succeeding in an era of rapid technological change.
Population decline poses a danger to the developed world. Yet there is nothing inevitable about it. History shows that governments can raise birthrates close to replacement levels if they adopt the right policies. France and Sweden, for example, have crafted thoughtful, comprehensive and consistent policy responses that have largely reversed their declining birthrates over the long run.
France was the first country to experience a declining birthrate in the 19th century. French leaders blamed the country’s defeat in 1940 on its stagnating demographic, economic and social development. If France was to regain its status, it needed a new dynamism — more social justice, a stronger economy and faster population growth. So France tried to plan itself out of industrial underdevelopment and demographic decay, and it did so through, above all, a generous program of financial support for families with children.
Sweden suffered from extremely low birthrates in the 1930s. When the Social Democrats came to power at the height of the Great Depression, one of their economic strategists was Gunnar Myrdal, who in 1934, with his wife Alva, wrote a best-selling book on the population crisis. It argued that if Sweden was to boost its birthrates, women had to be able to both raise children and have careers — a revolutionary idea at the time...
The Fertility ImplosionEach country has its unique combination of reasons for its fertility collapse. A willy-nilly reproduction (pun unintended) of the French or the Swedish models, without taking into account the the cultural, institutional, economic, immigration policy, ethnic profile and country size and location aspects bracketing those models, is playing with fire.
by David Brooks
When you look at pictures from the Arab spring, you see these gigantic crowds of young men, and it confirms the impression that the Muslim Middle East has a gigantic youth bulge — hundreds of millions of young people with little to do. But that view is becoming obsolete. As Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah of the American Enterprise Institute point out, over the past three decades, the Arab world has undergone a little noticed demographic implosion. Arab adults are having many fewer kids.
Usually, high religious observance and low income go along with high birthrates. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England — which is the least fertile region in the U.S.
The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.
The Iranian regime is aware of how the rapidly aging population and the lack of young people entering the work force could lead to long-term decline. But there’s not much they have been able to do about it. Maybe Iranians are pessimistic about the future. Maybe Iranian parents just want smaller families.
As Eberstadt is careful to note, demographics is not necessarily destiny. You can have fast economic development with low fertility or high fertility (South Korea and Taiwan did it a few decades ago). But, over the long term, it’s better to have a growing work force, not one that’s shrinking compared with the number of retirees.
If you look around the world, you see many other nations facing demographic headwinds. If the 20th century was the century of the population explosion, the 21st century, as Eberstadt notes, is looking like the century of the fertility implosion...
In this blessed land, the government has experimented with codifying generous leave rights for women and now men. It conducted a successful crash program to build day care centers in the 1990s (contrary to the conventional wisdom, waiting lists for day care center spaces are an extremely limited and localized phenomenon). As a part of an economic stimulus program, it has experimented with direct payments of subsidies to parents of children, without means testing (50% of which ended up, due to the law of unintended consequences and personal asset management advice printed in women's magazines, in bank savings accounts -- precisely where the government did not want its stimulus money to go).
The one salient fact that has seemingly never sunk into policy makers heads is that married women now are having children at the same rate they were four decades ago. The difference is that women are marrying in their thirties, meaning that their window of fertility is smaller. The issue is getting men and women to marry young, either by setting up their own households or by living with their inlaws in large houses.
If the government can also find ways of making the finding of jobs more secure -- which means encouraging flexible employment practices and the eradication of the bias against who choose or must suffer job mobility -- above and beyond the considerable efforts it has tried to make, then the birthrate "crisis" would ease.
Due to what has gone on over the last 30 years, this blessed land's population is set to drop no matter what -- last year's drop of more than a quarter of a million citizens serving as a wake up call of dramatic falls lying ahead (E). Making young people feel safe about marrying young would, however, ease the decline.