29 June 2008

Why Is Europe Disappearing?

In 50 years, half the population of many European countries will simply disappear--puff! gone. Why have Europeans stopped having babies, and why does everyone in Europe seem to be avoiding the issue?
For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover.

...In Germany, where the births-to-deaths ratio now results in an annual population loss of roughly 100,000, Ursula von der Leyen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s family minister (and a mother of seven), declared two years ago that if her country didn’t reverse its plummeting birthrate, “We will have to turn out the light.”

...“But you can’t go on forever with a total fertility rate of 1.2. If you compare the size of the 0-to-4 and 29-to-34 age groups in Spain and Italy right now, you see the younger is almost half the size of the older. You can’t keep going with a completely upside-down age distribution, with the pyramid standing on its point. You can’t have a country where everybody lives in a nursing home.” Read the rest at the __NYT
A Europe without children? Europe dispensed with its military infrastructure decades ago, in favour of allowing the US to carry the weight. Other once-vital parts of its infrastructure are going by the wayside one by one.

Welfare states need workers to pay into the system, to provide for all the trusting retirees who assume the system will always be there for them. The challenge for Europe--in the face of both low fertility rates and rising emigration of its brightest and most talented--is to keep the top-heavy bureaucracies running, the infrastructure maintained, and the productive sector producing. Unfortunately, it is the productive sector that seems to be shrinking the most quickly.

Recommended reading:

The Global Baby Bust
Europe's Baby Bust
America Alone (Google Books excerpt)
America Alone (Amazon page)
A Return to Pastoral Europe?
Birth of an Empire
Fiscal Policy and Fertility in the US

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Blogger IConrad said...

I distinctly recall having read in the writings of some other doomsayer that by the year 2050, over half the world's economy will be fully automated with zero human input.

How much longer, exactly, do you think it will be before some brighter bulb in legislature comes up with the idea of an "automation tax" ?

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Automation is vital in Japan and increasingly vital in Europe, due to losses in productive people. An automation tax is the type of meritless idea one comes to expect from government bureaucrats and officials.

The interesting debate is not whether Europe is shrinking or not (it is), but whether shrinkage will be a good thing or not. Some use the historical precedent of the "black plague" to suggest that massive depopulation will re-vitalise Europe.

They may be conveniently ignoring the empowerment of the third world excess population to travel, and the relative powerlessness of a modern left-multicultural bureaucracy to defend its population from being overrun and subsumed by a more vital, but barbaric people.

Millenia of human capital can be squandered within two or three generations.

BTW, anyone who makes predictions about "the future world" assuming any type of world uniformity or homogeneity, is an idiot. The stunningly salient feature of our human populated world is its non-uniformity.

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger Eshenberg said...

Latvia have very very hight fertility and birth rate :D
If media says than You the evil people and all problem in world because of You,who wants continue own civilization........
P.S. People group who thinks when they are-stronger,smarter,beautiful-better than others , are easily control;)

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Martins, according to my information, Latvia's fertility rate is about one half that of the US. It has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe of 1.13.

If a group actually is stronger and smarter than most others, they may turn out to be very hard to control indeed! That is the goal of the next level. To bring about a population of very smart, very healthy and long-lived people, who can never be controlled en masse.

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Hopes of using immigration to make up for falling fertility rates may be derailed. Nations like Morocco which have traditionally sent immigrants to Europe are seeing GDP rises and unemployment rates fall With nations like China just beginning to run out of cheap labour and companies moving first to Indochina and then Africa, the competition for people will intensify.

As this article mentions in regards to Japan, the dropping of fertility rates does not necessarily mean lots of jobs since the decline in markets cause economic stagnation. People will stop going to Europe if the jobs disappear and the unsustainable nature of social programs cause them to deteriorate. The Persian Gulf nations are already running most of their society off of foreign workers.

The high birth rate nations are mostly showing fertility rates that are high but falling like stones. Even the fertility rates of existing immigrant communities are dropping though at less dramatic rates than the source nations.

The labour issue can be addressed with automation. The aging population will be more difficult but as automation improves productivity the ability of fewer people to generate more wealth might help. But a reduction in markets for goods and services will probably require the most adjustment in the economy, though this may be the last consequence to be felt as purchasing power in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia increase for a time.

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

It is also interesting to see that, as the issue becomes more widely discussed, charges that those concerned about falling birth rates are accused of being all Christian fundamentalists and white supremacists.

The fact that the phenomenon is manifesting its effect in Europe (and Asia) while developing nations still have growing populations (but falling fertility rates) makes many people certain that this is just a concern for evil, rich, white Christians. I guess a problem needs to be chewing on your own nose before it becomes real.

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

In an agrarian society where the extra hands are needed to work the land or an underdeveloped and high infant mortality country where women must bear several children in order for a few to reach adulthood and provide for their 'old age', women will bear more children. In addition, in these societies women tend to be uneducated and may not have access to contraceptives. Their value may lie chiefly in how many sons they have borne.

In a modern nation where the more children a woman bears, the lower her standard of living, women will bear less. In addition, the modern standard of beauty is inconsistent with bearing multiple children.

Perhaps when movies and television show glorify droopy breasts and a poochy tummy, more women will aspire to such a look.

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Is it possible that SENS (discussed in the previous post in this blog) will make the child birth/depopulation issue irrelevant? Consider that biotech knowledge and capability is improving at a Carlson's Curve (the analog to Moore's Law) rate.

Monday, 30 June, 2008  
Blogger Will Brown said...

Building on Kurt's point - a good one, btw - one of the expected outcomes of successful SENS therapies becoming widely available is that "old people" won't be interested in retirement as such. Rather, they (hopefully I) will retrain and re-educate as needed to continue to finance their extended lifestyle expenses.

One of the more intriguing speculations to occur to me has been that of how people will overcome a lifetime of habitual practice and precautions once those no longer warrent the same degree of concern due to people's improved physiological condition?

My presumption is that this will all occur over a sufficiently extended time scale as to not overwhelm the individual senses, but I am convinced the degree of individual adaptation in response will be much more socially disruptive then seems to be currently anticipated.

Tuesday, 01 July, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

I like speculating about what an abundance of goods from ubiquitous molecular assemblers would do to our economies of scarcity, or what 200 year lifespans (or longer) would do to social security and pensions. And so on--there is no end to possible speculations.

However. Depending on the "singularity" to save it is a sucker play for society. It is like the old "skyhook" fictional device that saves the hero in the end against all probability. Fine for pulp fiction, but not so good for reality.

Kurzweil is a fine inventor and speculative thinker, but his ideas are not reality until someone makes them real. There are no guarantees included with Kurzweil's books.

Always assume that you have to do it yourself, until proven otherwise.

Tuesday, 01 July, 2008  
Blogger Ugh said...

In looking at the graphics included in the article it seems that hard core socialist states regardless of their overall prosperity are the fertility losers. There is a selfishness in regards to future generations in those societies - or maybe a hopelessness, perhaps even an unworthiness. They don't believe enough in the greatness of their own culture(s) to the point where they are not going to bother to pass it on. I see it happening in the U.S. as well. The news media - particularly NBC News and its affiliates go out of their way to denigrate America which can only hasten our own self loathing.

Saturday, 05 July, 2008  

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