Christian Science Monitor (USA), October 7,
Now, Dangers of a Population
"Honey, please, please have a baby."
That could be a mother's plea to a married
daughter. It's also the request, in less homey
language, of many governments.
For decades, much has been written about the
world's exploding population. But 60 countries,
about a third of all nations, have fertility
rates today below 2.1 children per woman, the
number necessary to maintain a stable population.
Half of those nations have levels of 1.5 or
less. In Armenia, Italy, South Korea, and Japan,
average fertility levels are now close to one
child per woman.
Barring unforeseen change, at least 43 of these
nations will have smaller populations in 2050
than they do today.
This baby dearth has potentially weighty economic
consequences for governments worried about
everything from economic vitality to funding
future pension programs and healthcare. That's
why many of them have been taking measures
designed to encourage their citizens to multiply.
* Starting this year, France's government has
been awarding mothers of each new baby 800
euros, almost $ 1,000.
* In Italy, the government is giving mothers
of a second child 1,000 euros.
* South Korea has expanded tax breaks for families
with young children and is increasing support
for day-care centers for working women.
* Last year parliament members in Singapore called
on the government to do more to keep Cupid
and the stork busy.
* Japanese prefectures have been organizing hiking
trips and cruises for single people - dating
programs to halt the baby bust.
Japanese singles are often called "parasites"
because, when they retire, they have no children
paying into the national pension system or
helping out otherwise.
Estonia's President Arnold Rueuetel last year
in a television address urged the country's
1.4 million residents to produce more babies,
or face a rapidly declining population.
British authorities also worry about the fertility
rate. The Office of National Statistics says
fertile women will need to have three children
to keep Britain's population at 59 million
into the future.
Even China, despite its 1.3 billion people, is
reportedly considering revising its "one
child" rule since its fertility rate of
1.39 is creating an older population - and
social and economic problems.
Although the United States is also slightly below
replacement fertility, the entry of more than
1 million immigrants each year is expected
to boost its population to 430 million or more
by midcentury. Still, Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan frets about demographics. He
wants to discourage early retirement and sees
a need for less generous Social Security and
On the flip side, the world's total population
will soar to 8.9 billion by mid-century, up
from 6.2 billion today, the United Nations
projects. At that time, the population should
stabilize, as more poorer nations join rich
countries in lowering their birthrates. By
the end of the century, the world's population
may decline if mothers in major developing
countries decide to have two babies on average,
rather than three, says Joseph Chamie, the
UN's top head counter.
At the moment, half of the growth in the world's
population is taking place in six nations -
India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria,
The contrast with low-fertility countries shows
in this statistic: All 25 member nations of
the European Union added as many people to
their total population in all of 2003 as India
did in the first five days of that same year.
India will have an extra half billion people
Although low-fertility nations may not face problems
as severe as high-fertility countries do, they
worry about economic growth, and in some cases,
military might. Mr. Chamie lists 25 measures
governments could take to boost fertility.
Some would be controversial, such as restricting
contraception and abortion and keeping women
poorly educated and jobless. He suspects many
"pronatalist policies" will have
only a "temporary and modest effect on
<< Christian Science Monitor -- 10/7/04
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