The renowned Lord Winston of Hammersmith is in New Zealand at the moment visiting schools to educate students about infertility and the dangers of waiting too long to have children. It’s interesting – and a little ironic - that the fertility expert, who pioneered IVF while it was still in its trial stages, is now warning that the rapid advance in reproductive technologies is making people too complacent about having children. He argues that many such technologies are, in reality, not very effective and cannot beat nature or the ticking reproductive clock. In fact he goes so far as to contend that it is often an immoral industry which provides a soul-destroying experience for young couples who are desperate to have a baby and are driven to do things like re-mortgage their houses to afford the hugely expensive treatment.
I have just read a very interesting piece in the Economist about a book by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century. This book looks at the links between demography, growth and inequality. Essentially, demographic growth feeds into economic growth, along with productivity growth. To increase economic growth, one must either increase the number of workers or the output that each worker is producing. According to Piketty, the world’s economic growth since the birth of Christ has been roughly equally due to an increasing population and increasing productivity. Thus, in the century ending in the year 2012, the world economy grew at roughly 3% a year. Population growth was 1.4% and per capita output grew at 1.6%.
Now however we are facing a century of slowing population growth. As the Economist argues:
Many people have a vague idea that too many people could have something to do with the existence of hunger in the world. This is often used as an argument for population control. If there really wasn’t going to be enough food for your children to eat, certainly that would be a valid reason for families to decide to limit their size (notice I said families to decide and not governments or anyone else to impose a decision). However, in fact, the problem is largely despotic individuals and inequalities in food distribution.
This week the Environmental research webreported that “crop yields have largely kept pace with population expansion”, largely because new research has boosted crop yields. We are learning more every day about better ways of doing things. The Atlas of Population and Environment also reports that:
While we watch the terrible news unfolding in the Ukraine and hope that things do not descend further into anarchy and violence, it is interesting to note that Ukraine’s longterm problems don’t end with a bad economy, a fragile government, a dangerous neighbour and a potential breakup of its territory (as if that wasn’t enough!) According to the International Business Times, the demographic outlook for Ukraine is extremely bleak:
“The country has a staggering shortage of men, which has partially resulted from their poor health, poverty and short life spans.”
Although it currently has a population of 46 million, Ukraine is facing a future of long, steady population decline.
“EuroMonitor estimates that by 2030, the population of Ukraine will fall to 42.6 million, a 7 percent decline from 2010.
Rwanda, like Cambodia, is a place of recent atrocities which I was shocked to learn about in my teens. Like many, I had a progressive view of history and was surprised that man’s nature had not moved on since ancient cruelty and barbarisms that I vaguely knew about. Had men really done such terrible things to other men so recently? Unfortunately, I have now changed my innocent view that atrocities were something only committed in ancient history, and instead wonder if in some areas we might be worse than ever before. The United Nations Secretary General recently commented during events to acknowledge the 20 year anniversary that:
"The Rwandan genocide was an epic failure of the international community to take action in the face of atrocity crimes...We know more keenly than ever that genocide is not a single event, but a process that evolves…
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Today I want to share with you a very interesting piece written by Dr Pascoal Carvalho for the FIAMC (the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations) about the plight of the elderly, particularly in India. I will leave Dr Carvalho to speak for himself, and will confine myself to highlighting in bold the parts of the article which particularly resonated with or interested me. Enjoy!
“In our society there is a tyrannical dominance of an economic logic that excludes and at times kills, and of which nowadays we find many victims, starting with the elderly.” These were the words of Pope Francis in his message to the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), which is currently holding its plenary assembly on the theme of “Aging and Disability”. “Health is without doubt an important value,” the Holy Father continued, “but it…
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Statistics released this week show that women in New Zealand between the ages of 35 and 39 are having more babies than women aged 20 – 24 for the first time. In fact, the average age of first time mothers in New Zealand is now one of the highest in the developed world. The number of babies born in 2013 in New Zealand was also the lowest number since 2003, down 4% from 2012.
These trends are beginning to cause concern at a governmental level. New Zealand’s advisory committee on reproductive technology is going so far as to advise the Ministry of Health to launch a public awareness campaign to make women more aware of the sharp decline in women’s fertility with age, and dispel the myth that IVF treatment is always an easy answer.
The debate in Hong Kong on its population policy is continuing. We’ve mentioned it before on this blog, and the debate isn’t dying down at all. The South China Morning Post continues to debate the options and likely outcomes for a city which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. As the article states, Hong Kong’s population growth is drying up and the population is growing older:
“The city's population has grown very slowly and is ageing fast. With a population of over 7 million, of which there are 312,000 foreign domestic helpers (8 per cent of the labour force) and an unemployment rate of just over 3 per cent, the labour force will begin to peak in 2018 and steadily decline as the population ages. By 2041, one in three will be over the age of 65.”
Demographic issues are increasingly being recognised as important around the world. In the time that we have been writing this blog, there has been a clear shift in the headlines from gloomy predictions of the end of the world as we know it due to overpopulation, to an increased awareness that our fertility rates are actually below replacement rate in the Western world – and increasingly everywhere else – and the economic and social consequences this shift could bring. It's an interesting study in media headline 'fads' and the extent to which people buy into them. Is the media reporting or creating the news?!
Something else I have noticed is an increasing number of universities offering demography courses to undergraduate students. For example, the Cornell University in the United States has just added demography as an undergraduate minor this semester.
On my currently ignored Kindle (I’ve refound the joys of the university library – an incredibly rich resource I’m lucky enough to have access to) is a book on my “to-read” list: How Civilisations Die (and How Islam is Dying, Too) by David P Goldman. I will read it and give you a book review about it sometime soon. In lieu of that, I found (and read!) an article by the same author about Iran’s foreign policy and how it is analogous in some ways to Germany in 1938. Now, I don’t necessarily share the author’s pessimism, but that could be me not wanting to share it rather than based upon any rational calculation. Even if you don’t agree with all of Goldman’s analysis, the general picture he paints is grim.
Welcome to Demography Is Destiny. We launched this to counter two media memes: that humans are a cancer which is destroying our planet and that world population is spiralling to unsustainable levels. The real story is that intelligent and inventive human will rise to the challenge of climate change and that our real problem is the coming demographic winter. The editors of Demography is Destiny are Marcus and Shannon Roberts, who live in Auckland, New Zealand. Send them your comments and suggestions.