Feature

The high cost of shrinking populations

The greater concern facing the human race is not overpopulation&mdash;it&rsquo;s depopulation, caused by dramatically falling birthrates, said Phillip Longman in<strong> </strong><em>USA Today.</em>

Phillip Longman USA Today

“There are just too many people in the world.” It’s an impression that’s widely shared, said Phillip Longman, as we all fight over parking spaces and beachfront property, and ponder the terrible prospect of global warming. But though it’s counterintuitive, the greater concern facing the human race is not overpopulation—it’s depopulation, caused by dramatically falling birthrates.

In Europe, Russia, China, and Brazil, the average couple is now having fewer than two children, and the population is shrinking. In the U.S., 20 percent of baby boomers had no children at all. Birth rates are also falling rapidly in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, as modern values spread and couples learn to see children as an “avoidable liability.”

Why is that attitude dangerous? As the world’s existing population grows old, there will be fewer children to keep the economy humming, and to pay for senior citizens’ medical care, pensions, and other benefits. In China, for example, each child moving into the workforce will soon have to support two parents and four grandparents. Children are not just a burden; they’re an investment in the future. With too few of them, our species’ future will be grim.

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