We have a looming underpopulation crisis. Here’s what you need to know
The fertility rate has been declining globally since the 60s, despite peaking a little bit later in some places.
What’s the underpopulation crisis?
For pretty much any country to maintain its population through reproduction, it needs to have an average of 2.1 births per woman – that’s one kid to replace each parent and a little bit more for those who don’t go on to have children of their own.
But this number (referred to as the fertility rate) has been declining globally since the 60s, despite peaking a little bit later in some places.
And now, countries like China and the United States are getting close to seeing a declining population.
For China, this seems to stem at least partly from its one-child policy, which was put in place in 1980 and then changed to a two-child policy in 2016. Now, China is allowing couples to have up to three children to combat the declining fertility rate.
But it’s also clear that the one-child policy wasn’t the only thing causing the problem since a declining fertility rate is happening on every continent in the world.
Why does it matter if the population declines?
The big problem is that population decline has a significant effect on the economy in many ways.
For example, when fertility rates are really low, the average age of a given population will be higher.
And because the average age is higher, there’s going to be less need for things like schools or sports facilities.
But that doesn’t mean there are necessarily any fewer people who are trained as teachers or as coaches, so those people are just left without jobs.
And when they don’t have jobs, they tend to have fewer children, and the problem just gets even worse in the long term.
This ripple effect exists everywhere, not just with teachers and coaches. It affects major companies, social security and tax revenue and even public transportation costs. Depopulation affects everything.
Can anything good come from depopulation?
Yes, there are definitely some benefits to depopulation.
For one, it could be better for the environment. According to Morgan Stanley analysts, “Having a child is 7-times worse for the climate in CO2 emissions annually than the next 10 most discussed mitigants that individuals can do.”
And this is one of the fastest-growing reasons that young people, in particular, are choosing not to have children right now.
There can also be economic benefits for a declining population – some demographers, like Ron Lee of the University of California, Berkeley, have shown that lower fertility rates can mean that the gross domestic product (GDP) per person goes up.
And there’s also an argument that, because of increasing life expectancy, it isn’t as important to have high birthrates, since people will be around and able to be in the workforce for longer anyway.
What are governments doing about it?
Well, this is a problem with some pretty interesting and creative solutions.
But another way that China is looking at potentially growing its fertility rate is to relax policies around medical procedures that allow women to freeze their eggs, which would mean that they could have children even later.
On the other hand, the US has avenues like immigration to solve the issue since immigration to the US is so highly sought after.
Allowing more people to immigrate to the US makes it unnecessary to worry about people within the country having kids.
Well, the truth is that the global population isn’t expected to stop growing for another four decades, so whatever the consensus is regarding solutions to the problem, there’s time to find an answer.
We also don’t know how much the average life expectancy might grow globally in that time. So by the time the population starts to decline, people might stay in the workforce for even longer.
The solutions aren’t cut-and-dry either – there is probably a whole range of possible solutions that countries will try out in the future.
And ultimately, if the population does decline a little bit, at least there are some benefits worth leaning back on.
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