Kevin J. Burns, Intern
Ever since Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 best-selling book The Population Bomb, there have been widespread concerns about overpopulation. But overpopulation is a myth, especially in western society. As Alejandro Macarron Larumbe argues in his recently-published article in Expansión, a Spanish economic newspaper, western populations are quickly shrinking and western economies are shrinking with them.
In developed countries, a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman will ensure population status quo. Larumbe’s article seeks to bring attention to Spain’s paltry fertility rate of 1.35. Across Europe, the native population is quickly shrinking, with an average fertility rate of 1.5. Even in the United States, the fertility rate is expected to bottom out at a 25-year low of 1.89 for 2012, down from a high of 2.12 in 2007.
Falling birth rates in the west should come as no surprise. In the wake of the sexual revolution – with the advent of no-fault divorce, cohabitation and legalized abortion – Americans have consistently chosen to put off having children until later in life, or even to avoid having children altogether. Even Carl Djerassi, one of the scientists who helped to develop the birth control pill, has protested against the devastating effects of this trend, warning that there is no longer any “connection at all between sexuality and reproduction.” One can make moral arguments about this phenomenon, but in this case moral arguments are unnecessary to prove the disastrous long-term consequences of our spiraling birth rates. With the decline in our fertility rates and population, our economic stability and viability are at stake.
Larumbe warns that the trend of “demographic suicide” in Spain may have massive economic repercussions on the country. Although he admits that Spain’s economy grew for roughly 40 years after her birthrates began to fall off – as a result of women working instead of staying at home with children, less capital spent on child-care, education and the like – Larumbe points out the blatantly obvious fact that this trend cannot continue into perpetuity.
We face the same harsh reality in the United States. Through the post-World War II era, the United States expected roughly four percent annual GDP growth, mostly from human capital (those skills, capacities and know-how contained in the human person and valued in the labor market). However, since the decline of the family and the nation’s fertility rates in the 1960s and 1970s, human capital’s contribution to GDP growth has been more than halved.
What is happening in Spain and the U.S. has global implications. The United Nations’ Population Division reports, “Perhaps the most significant demographic change over the past three decades has been the substantial decline in fertility in all areas of the world. Since 1970-1975 world total fertility has declined by 37 percent: from 4.5 births per woman to the 1995-2000 level of 2.8.”