The Corner

The Birth Dearth Myth (Cont.)

The idea that aging populations are necessarily a problem is a natalist myth. In an overcrowded planet (yes it is), a gently declining population is no bad thing, and one that can be managed with little or no economic difficulty by (1) deferring the retirement age somewhat and (2) relying on the incremental effects of quite modest increases in the economy’s overall productivity.

Above all, however, one thing that is clear is that, for any number of reasons, mass immigration is not the answer to this supposed problem. In a week when the U.K., a notably overpopulated group of islands, announced some dispiriting population data (the birth rate is now running at three times what it was in the 1980s), the Sunday Telegraph’s Alasdair Palmer runs through some of the numbers:

There is a powerful body of opinion which claims that a larger population must be good for the UK, because it will lower the “age dependency ratio”: the number of pensioners there are for each person young enough to work (even if they can’t find, or don’t want, a job). But that idea is bogus.

At the moment, the age dependency ratio means that each worker has to support 0.3 pensioners. If migration into Britain fell to zero tomorrow, that figure would creep up, over the next 70 years, to 0.5. If the number of people settling here every year was reduced so that it balanced those leaving, the ratio would rise to 0.43 by 2081, because the people leaving tend to be elderly, whereas those arriving are young and fertile.

If you were absolutely determined to have a younger population, the only way to do it would be immigration on a vast scale: yet even if the UK’s population were to increase to close to 100 million by 2081, the age dependency ratio would only fall to 0.35.

And all but the most blindly obsessive enthusiasts for immigration recognise that such a level of immigration would mean that the whole of the South East would have to be concreted over, and the effects of squashing so many people into such a small space would make life intolerable for everyone.

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