NU.S. Fertility Keeps Declining Demography is Destiny, Baby (Especially If There's No Baby)
By Don Feder
May 30, 2018
If you asked the average American about declining fertility, he'd think you were talking about soil conditions, crop rotation or the weather. Most lack the awareness to even begin discussing what could be the greatest crisis of the 21st century.
Not that I blame them. The media and political elite have us chasing after illusions like global warming, so-called over-population, and "white privilege" so we miss the reality of a disaster that's almost on us.
In terms of demography, fertility refers to the number of children the average woman will have in her lifetime. Roughly 2.1 is needed just to maintain current population. For a nation, we speak of its total fertility rate, or TFR.
The past half-century has seen a great baby bust. Globally, total fertility has been more than cut in half from 5.1 in 1960 to 2.4 in 2016. As early as 2030, worldwide population growth could become worldwide population decline.
For a while, the birth dearth seemed to be a European phenomenon. (For the European Union as a whole, the TFR is 1.5.) But America is catching up.
Last week, it was announced that the Centers for Disease Control estimates that in 2017, the U.S. had a fertility rate of 1.76, the lowest on record. As recently as a decade ago, it was 2.08, close to replacement, but itself a far cry from where it was in 1960 (3.5). The bad news keeps getting worse.
Not everyone cares. Libertarians who care deeply about the legalization of marijuana and private ownership of tactical nuclear weapons are nonchalant. Ronald Baily, science writer for Reason Magazine, celebrates falling fertility as a sign of freedom and choice.
Typical of libertarians who sanctify the individual and make society an afterthought (if they think of it at all), Baily remarks: "Because time and money are limited, more Americans are exercising their reproductive freedom, making the tradeoff between having more children and pursuing the satisfactions of career, travel and lifestyle." Apres moi, le tsunami.
The water is knee-deep now. Soon it will be up to our waists. In his book of the same title, Julian Simon called people "The Ultimate Resource." We can find new petroleum reserves and learn to use energy more efficiently. We can find ways to increase the yield per acre. But a modern, industrial society requires people a growing population rather than one that's shrinking.
Forget Social Security. If you're in your twenties today, your chances of collecting are comparable to winning Powerball. A rising elderly population will require more medical care, more specialists, and more hospital and nursing home beds. Where will the caregivers, the maintenance staff and the fundraisers of tomorrow come from?
Seniors aside, what about those on whom we all depend police and soldiers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians, farmers, factory workers and miners, teachers and technicians?
In the United States, not only was the 2017 TFR the lowest on record, but so was the 2016 rate, and the 2015 before it.
Fewer and fewer children combined with more and more elderly equals a demographic train wreck.
The number of seniors (those over 65) is expected to double between now and 2060. As a share of the total population, they'll increase from 15% to 24%. For the first time in history, in 2035, those over 65 (then 78 million) will outnumber those under 18 (76.4 million). Demography is destiny, baby said he with the barest hint of irony.
One more depressing fact, over the next 12 years, the number of Americans 65 and older who will require nursing home care will increase by an estimated 75%. There won't be enough of your children to care for the Bailys of our country, when they get too decrepit to pursue the satisfactions of career, travel and lifestyle. Who, then, will empty their bedpans as we watch America go down the drain?
While America teeters on the brink, Europe has taken the plunge. Writing on the opinion page of Fox News, Jeremy Carl, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, observes, "Americans and Europeans are abandoning parenthood at an alarming rate, profoundly changing the nature of our societies, our politics and our cultures."
Carl adds that elites set the tone. In 1951, the leaders of the eight nations that became the European Union had 32 children among them. Today, only one is led by someone with children.
Every nation in Western Europe has legalized gay "marriage," the only type of marriage politicians on the left care about. Wonder what the fertility rate is for same-sex couples?
Will mass immigration save us? If we flung the gates wide open, in 20 or 30 years, there may still be a geographic entity called America, but one unrecognizable to its current inhabitants.
Europe's future is being written by women in burkas. In southern France, there are already more mosques than churches. In Brussels' City Center, it's a steady parade of women in headscarves pushing strollers with two and three children. While the Belgians are busy pursuing satisfactions, others are seeing to their country's future.
You cant understand the fall of fertility without considering the rapid disappearance of marriage.
In 1960, 72% of all adult Americans were married. By 2008, that figure had fallen to 51%. Whether through divorce, the death of a spouse, or a failure to marry at all, a decade ago, close to a majority of Americans were single. Among 18-to-29-year-olds (those in their prime childbearing years), 59% were married in 1960, compared to a paltry 20% today. Fewer marriages equal fewer children.
Whether it's work, marriage or children, millennials are commitment-phobic. Go on Facebook and see how many say they're "in a relationship," instead of married. Unless they're dating a blood relative, why? They'll go through life careening between relationships, constantly wondering what lifestyle is right for them.
In the meantime, they'll miss living.
Children are messy, frustrating and aggravating. Still, they're not a lifestyle choice, but to the essence of life. In "In the Disappearance of Childhood," cultural critic Neil Postman wrote, "Children are the living message we send to a time we will not see."
What message will this generation of Americans send: Sorry, too busy. Not if it interferes with our lifestyle choices and leisure pursuits.
Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains a Facebook page.