Saturday, November 17, 2018

Baby bust in half the world’s countries: Good or bad news?

Within the narrow view of individual nations, it seems bad news when the fertility rate drops below the replacement level. Who will do the work? Who will care for and pay for the elderly? Economists wring their hands.

In 1950, women were having an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime. The fertility rate all but halved to 2.4 children per woman by last year. 
But that masks huge variation between nations. 
The fertility rate in Niger, west Africa, is 7.1, but in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus women are having one child, on average. 
In the UK, the rate is 1.7, similar to most Western European countries.

But taking the long view, a reduced birth rate is a good thing. I’m a baby boomer, so when my parents were born, there were about 2 billion people on the planet. When I was born, there were already 4 billion, and now we’re headed toward 8 billion. In two generations. Nature does not treat kindly population growth rates like lemmings.

So yes, falling birth rates and even de-population will cause some social and economic disruption. But it could save us from destroying the planet upon which our societies depend. And with the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence, there soon may not be many jobs needing to be done by people anymore.

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