The Corner

“Fewer” & Natalism

My old boss Ben Wattenberg (for whom I was studying TFR’s and UN population projections) has come out with a new book demography called Fewer about declining birth rates. From Andy Ferguson’s column:

“Our traditional view of those countries is completely outdated — the population explosion and all that,” Wattenberg says. “Forty years ago, less developed countries averaged about 6 children per woman. Now it’s about 2.8 — still a growing population. But the UN projects it will fall to 1.85 –a declining population.”

Wattenberg sees world population, now 6.4 billion, trending to 8 billion over the next several decades, then beginning to fall. At a 1.85 replacement rate, world population would decline to 2.3 billion people by 2300.

The great exception to these trends is the U.S., where the fertility rate is just below replacement and moving higher. The UN projects 400 million Americans by 2050, up from about 285 million. Much of the U.S. growth is fueled by immigration.

A Matter of Choice

So what does this all mean? “Never before in history have populations chosen not to reproduce themselves,” Wattenberg says. “Declining populations have always been a result of plague or famine.”

For those people weaned on the small-is-beautiful humbug of the 1960s and ’70s — which saw humans as a kind of blight on a pristine planet — news of a population implosion will be good news indeed. But for a “pro-people” futurist like Wattenberg, who sees human beings as a positive good and growth as a gift, the implosion carries ominous implications.

“The repercussions touch every aspect of our lives,” he says. What is commonly called the “aging problem,” for example, is better understood as a low-fertility problem.

In 1950, 8 percent of Europeans were over 65. That percentage will rise, by 2050, to 28 percent.

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