What to Expect: The Coming Demographic Challenge

Nations Without Futures

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«A country without children is a nation without a future.» According to a recent post on the Demography Matters blog, this was a comment by Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, referring to his country’s low birth rate.

The post noted that the number of births in Portugal has been below the level needed to replace the current population since the early 80s. Moreover, the stagnating economy is leading younger Portuguese to emigrate in search of jobs, keeping the youth unemployment rate to only 38.3%, quite a bit better than the situation in neighboring Spain, at over 55%.

The economy is still shrinking, government and private sector debt is enormous, and, as the blog post commented, “So with less people working and paying into the welfare system, less GDP, and huge debts the numbers simply don’t add up.”

Portugal is by no means alone in struggling to cope with an aging population.

“Britain is ‘woefully under-prepared’ to cope with an expected explosion of older people and ministers need to respond by raising the retirement age and tackle the costs by reviewing pensioner benefits, a House of Lords inquiry concluded,” observed a March 14 article in Britain’s newspaper the Guardian.

It said that from 2010 to 2030 there is expected to be a 50% increase in people aged 65 and over and that Britain will need to make major changes in order to cope with this change.

The article stemmed from a report by a group of peers of the House of Lords. The “Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change – First Report Ready for Ageing?”

Living for longer is something to be celebrated, the report noted. This comes, however, with risks and costs and the fact that people can outlive their pensions and savings.

The report made a number of detailed proposals on how to deal with the growing number of elderly people and the economic pressures this will cause.

The problem is Europe-wide. On March 26 Eurostat, the statistical agency for the European Union, published demographic data for 2012. At the start of 2012 the number of persons aged 65 or over had grown to 18% of the total population, compared to 14% in 1992.

These reports came shortly before the publication of astonishing figures regarding the number of abortions.

China abortions

On March 15 the Financial Times reported that since the implementation of population control in China in 1971 there have been 336 million abortions and 196 million sterilizations. Medical staff have also inserted 403 million intrauterine devices.

The same day the Web site of the Christian Post published the news that in a March 13 post on his Twitter account atheist professor Richard Dawkins had affirmed that «with respect to those meanings of ‘human’ that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any fetus is less human than an adult pig.”

The number of abortions in China in the last few decades surpasses the entire current population of the United States. While the fertility rate in the U.S. has remained higher than in European countries nevertheless it has declined, leading to concerns over the future.

These concerns were expressed in a recent book, “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster,” by Jonathan V. Last, (Encounter Books).

Last, who writes for the American magazine the Weekly Standard, observed that while the national fertility average in the U.S. is reasonable it is only because of the higher birth rate among Hispanics, which is rapidly declining.

Between 2000 and 2010, 30% of America’s population growth was due to immigration from Hispanic countries. Population growth in these countries, however, is dropping sharply, which leads to the conclusion that the numbers of immigrants into the U.S. will drop.

“Why should we care?” he asked. Because sub-replacement fertility has always been associated with economic stagnation or collapse, he answered.

How to change

Last added that independent research has revealed that once a nation is in a situation of below-replacement fertility it is very difficult to reverse the trend. Italy, Germany, Russia, and many other countries are experiencing population decline, without any signs of a change in the trend.

For example, since 1989, 2,000 schools in the former East Germany have closed due to a lack of students.

In fact, he noted, if the current fertility rates continue unchanged in Europe, its population will go from 738 million in 2010 to 482 million by the end of century.

With an aging population not only does the tax base decline, but the amount of capital available for investment declines, as the older people prefer to keep their funds in low-risk investments.

Last’s book raises many interesting questions, which combined with recent news, can’t help but suggest that the “success” of family planning and contraception in recent decades will bring some very unwelcome consequences.

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On the Net

House of Lords report on Ageing – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldpublic/140/14002.htm

Eurostat report on demography – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STAT-13-49_en.htm?locale=en

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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