Long Term Population Decline?

Scott Burns wrote of longterm population decline in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News. By “longterm” he means 50 years out. He notes that population growth in Western Europe and Japan is already negative, and that it is declining in the US. For those who see overpopulation as one of the major risks facing humanity, this is good news. But Burns points out that this could be disastrous for a foundational institution, the family.

Drawing on the work of Philip Longman, Burns writes:

… no business or government institution can replace the functioning of a family. Without that functioning, society would cease to exist… Mr. Longman sees a birth rate that is literally verging on extinction (nearly half the required rate for replacement) in Europe, Japan and Russia. And he asks questions few are asking. Those questions turn on two words.

Care. It will become more difficult in such a rapid population shift. Mr. Longman points out that there will be 35 million fewer children in the world by 2050 but 1.6 billion more elderly people. We can measure that by asking what portion of the population will be at least 60 years old in 2050, remembering that in most of human history it has been less than 5 percent.

In forever-young America, the figure will hit 26.9 percent, the lowest of any of the developed economies. In Italy and Japan it will be 42.3 percent. In Germany it will be 38.1 percent.

These are massive changes. They will absorb the lifetime work of millions of younger people. It will strain – or completely destroy – institutional systems of retirement income and health care that depend on transfers from younger workers. It will put devastating strain on younger households that may have to care for aging parents and stepparents.

Nurture. This is what adult parents do for the next generation. Nurture will be increasingly problematic as young couples confront the competing demands of caring (or paying) for the elderly, paying off education debts taken on to be competitive in the job market and paying for expensive housing in the shrinking number of school districts that offer quality public education.

Burns has a long history of warning us about the upcoming demise of Social Security (the math just doesn’t work). Now we see the deeper problem – the generational balance is out of whack. We’re all happy about the advances of medicine that have enabled us to live longer. But we have not taken into account all the effects that ripple through society.

If we think that Burns (and Longman) are correct in their assessment, what can we do?

At the very least, we need to turn our attention to those places where the population is not cratering – especially Africa. Africa is faced with exploding populations, rotten government, and new diseases. As Christians, we need to find ways to bless the people’s of Africa. It won’t only be for their good, but for the good of the world. Perhaps Africa University will prove of immense importance here.

We’ll also have to find ways to build up families in America. This will mean finding ways to encourage families to have more children. I have three children, so I know this is tough both economically and socially. Children cost us time and money. They’re the biggest investment we make. We need to find ways to convince people that investing in children (I’m not speaking of government investment in children but parental investment) instead of new and bigger houses, cars, vacations, etc.

Update: Here’s some new commentary on Africa University. Since they’re in Zimbabwe, thye certainly have their work cut out for them. Keep praying.

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