Sunday, January 4, 2009

Experts warn about population demographics, particularly in western Europe

Neil Howe and Richard Jackson have an alarming article in the Outlook Section of the Washington Post this morning, Jan. 4, “The World Won’t Be Aging Gracefully: Just the Opposite,” link here.

The authors have a book “The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century,” published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in May 2008, with authors Keisuke Nakashima and Rebecca Strauss.

The most obvious result of this demographic development is financial: as people live longer, they exhaust savings and working populations, shrinking, have to pay relatively more to support retirement. Obviously, working careers must lengthen and retirement must be delayed, and employers must adjust to hiring more senior workers and keeping them longer.

The authors maintain that the United States may remain in a position of relative leadership because its birthrate and legal immigration rates are higher than in western Europe. The US has a replacement rate of about 2.1, where as in Europe some countries are below 1.5. Whereas western European countries had median ages in the early 30s in 1980, by 2020 the median age could be over 50. Muslim immigration, which is not as well assimilated as in the United States, could dominate European society and undermine liberal social values accepted today. Russian population is imploding, leading to the possibility of an eventual “failed state with nukes” China will have a graying population because of its “one child per family” policy.

The “moral” question that comes up related to the relative value our society places on childrearing and parenting, relative to expressive culture that interests adults apart from children. In the latter part of the 20th Century we came to regard marriage and parenting as a “private choice” for which, in theory, parents own complete responsibility. It’s not clear that we can afford that view too much longer. Already, some countries are adopting pro-natalist policies, and Russia sponsored “conception days”. Some countries with pro-family policies, like Singapore, still have low birth rates, however.

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