The Corner

Demographic Winter

I’m guessing we’ll be hearing this phrase a lot. It’s catchy, and names a real looming phenomenon whose consequences nobody had really worked out yet. (Except these folk, of course.)

After reading Ron Bailey’s piece in Reason, I went & watched the movie trailer. Then I bought the DVD. Shall report back on this.

The central point in the trailer, that modernity and child-raising are a really poor mix, is surely true. Raising children is not much fun much of the time. It never was, of course, but our ancestors did not feel as entitled to fun as we do, and of course lacked reliable birth control methods.

My generation was I think the last in the Western world not to be consciously “raised” at all. Our parents – not just my parents, ours, everybody’s – shoved us out of the house on every possible occasion. People who could afford to, hired other adults to raise their kids for them. The ancient paleolithic formula of keeping a child by the mother till weaned, then dumping him into the tribal peer group, still held. Then this guy showed up and everything went to hell.

The endless attentions we are supposed to lavish on our kids nowadays simply go against the grain of human nature. If you’re a parent, come on, admit it: There have been times, haven’t there, when, after some particularly difficult struggle with a child, you and your spouse have sat staring at each other gloomily across the kitchen table, till one of you says: “Isn’t this supposed to be rewarding? Pah!”

On the larger social issue of “demographic winter,” I have long been arguing – I argued it across a dinner table with some NR staffers & guests Monday night – that so far as I can see, it’s inevitable, and we should concentrate our minds on dealing with it. I also think that those nations that are first off the demographic cliff — notably Japan, but with China not far behind – will, if they survive, be ahead of the game, like the British getting the Industrial Revolution before anyone else.

And there is, of course, the MarkSteynian issue about differential demographic decline – Europe headed off the cliff while the Middle East is still climbing up towards the cliff edge. Apparently modernity, and the “demographic winter” that follows, comes more easily to some peoples than to others. There are some dire possibilities in there; but current evidence is that even a bit of second-hand modernity has big impact on fertility.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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