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Is The Population Bomb a Dud? August 22, 2008

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Culture, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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It has been conventional wisdom among environmentalists that the earth’s population will continue to grow, eventually oustripping the avialable resources to support prosperity.

But this article shows that the trend lines are no longer so clear. Birth rates are beginning to fall throughout much of the world, precipitously in some places. And declining birth rates generate problems for societies.

“Low-birth Europe is faced with an ageing population, a pensions crisis, later retirement, changes in work patterns, shrinking cities and a massive looming healthcare cost. Nations of children with no siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles – only parents, grandparents, and perhaps great-grandparents – will face the burden of paying for the care of a massive older generation. The same prospect of an older, more conservative, less vigorous or inventive culture looms in China, Japan and much of the Far East”.

 

The article suggests that keeping population right around the replacement level 2.1 kids per women is the best policy. But it is not clear how to accomplish this. Another part of conventional wisdom is that giving women access to education and job opportunities outside the home reduces family size. But in many countries that has reduced birth rates too far below replacement level.

 

And it doesn’t always work. In Italy, Spain, Greece, and parts of Asia such as Japan, women have access to education and the workplace but social attitudes encourage women to adopt traditional roles:

“Women without their own income have very little bargaining power inside the home, but they can go on baby strike. The outcome is that, perhaps counter-intuitively, working mothers are now having more babies than those who stay at home full time. “The tradition that once boosted fertility,” says Falkingham, “now undermines it.”

The result is what the Japanese demographer Shigemi Kono calls “the revenge of women on men”… “Until social attitudes catch up with economic change,” says David Coleman, “many women in the developed world will become overloaded and respond by cutting down the number of children they have.”

 

The take away point: It is very hard to prescribe a general policy. Too much depends on local conditions

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