This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Ongoing Myth of a Fertility Implosion

David Brooks of the New York Times has a column in today's paper suggesting that we are in the twilight of population growth on this planet:
For decades, people took dynamism and economic growth for granted and saw population growth as a problem. Now we’ve gone to the other extreme, and it’s clear that young people are the scarce resource. In the 21st century, the U.S. could be the slowly aging leader of a rapidly aging world.
This is simply nonsense, and comes from seeing the world with blinders that exclude the developing nations, especially in Africa and Asia, that will likely be adding two billion more people to the planet between now and the middle of this century. It ignores the reasons why the US and Europe are struggling with the cultural issues surrounding immigrants--those people are coming from countries with rates of growth that exceed rates in the rich countries precisely because birth rates--even if lower than they used to be--are still well above replacement level. 

Furthermore, the idea that declining fertility, even in poor countries, is automatically associated with young people becoming a scarce resource ignores the mortality side of things. Kids are surviving in ever greater numbers, so a lower birth rate may mean simply that the same number of children are now surviving to adulthood because both fertility and mortality are lower than they used to be.

Another major problem with the column is that in his introduction, Brooks cites a recent report by Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah called "Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea-Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed." On the contrary, this trend has been importantly noticed and analyzed by Youseff Courbage and Emmanuel Todd in their book "A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World," which I use in my class, and which would be a much better source of material for a column by Mr. Brooks.

1 comment:

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