More on Birth, Life, Death, Ruling the World, and the Media
One of my longer entries is on birthrates and population. In that article I discussed historical Total Fertility Rates (TFRs), population trending and predictions, and possible impacts of population decline.
Its been almost 18 months since I did the research for that initial work, and I would like to revisit the subject. I am again going to the CIA World Factbook (this time the 2005 edition, not the 2003 edition) for big numbers with some additional information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the UN for population predictions, and some other groups.
Ready for the numbers? The global TFR estimates vary, but were about 2.7 in 2002 (the year that I used for the statistics in my previous article). In 2005 global TFR was at 2.62. The European TFR is an aggregate 1.4, the ‘developed world’ (in other words, Europe plus America, Canada, Japan, and Australia) is 1.6. South America is at a TFR of 2.5, as is Asia as a whole. Central America is at 2.8, the Middle East at 3.6, and Africa is at 5.
TFRs for a number of countries have had minor adjustments, typically reflecting lower TFRs than just 2 years ago. Interest in the so-called ‘birth dearth’ has led to more research in the last 2-5 years giving us more accurate numbers in 2006. China’s TFR dropped from 1.7 to 1.6 between 2002 and 2005, while the American TFR dropped from 2.1 in 2002 t 2.0 in 2004. The South Korean TFR dropped from 1.26 in 2000 to 1.15 in 2005. The Philippines TFR of 3.5 in 2002 has dropped to an estimated 2.7 in 2005. Again, many of these adjustments in TFR rates reflect new research, but there does seem to be an ongoing decrease in TFRs that is more rapid than was previously believed.
The most alarming downward revision may be in Japan. Japan’s TFR in 2002 was 1.32. Researchers revised the 2003 estimate to 1.29 and the new estimate for 2005 is 1.22. This is a rapid drop in TFRs and has led to the question seen in the Japan Times; “When will the last Japanese child be born?”.
Better direct access to the Middle East revised many of those numbers upwards, especially in Afghanistan. There also seems to be an increase in childbearing after American occupation. This largely kept the global TFR flat (or close to it) between 2002 and 2005.
There has been more research on replacement TFR, as well. Due to immigration, the American replacement TFR is now set at 1.8. At the same time, AIDS, war, and other factors have increased the replacement TFR for the developing world to 2.5. Taken together, the ‘flat’ global TFR combined with the increases in replacement TFRs mean that population projections are lower now than they were 16 months ago.
The UN now has the 2004 revision for its population growth estimates, including TFR estimates. There are two interesting things about the UN estimates. First, they are being continually revised down across the board. Second, the UN ‘low’ estimate is usually closest to reality, although it tends to be too high. When I had previously listed the predicted global TFR for 2025 at about 2.3 I was using the 1998 revision of the UN’s data. Looking at the 2004 revision, I will adjust my estimate to a global TFR of 1.9 in 2025.
That is a pretty serious change. It means that the population peak will come sooner and be lower still.
The UN report mentions that they predict that population decline will be relatively small and temporary, resulting in a ‘leveled off’ population of about 9 billion in 2300. Of course, one of these assumptions is that human life expectancy will continue to increase linearly with no limit (i.e., humans in 2300 will have a life expectancy of about 106) and that TFRs will rebound to replacement. They admit that an average (over time) global TFR of 2.4 will result in a year 2300 world population of about 36 billion while an average (over time) global TFR of 1.9 results in a projected year 2300 world population of possibly less than 1.9 billion, even with all other assumptions intact. Any change in death rates up, birth rates down, life expectancies that do not trend up linearly, etc., etc. and the total population is lower.
There are some interesting things coming out of the most recent demographics research. One commonly accepted ‘truth’ is called the ‘demographic transition theory’. This is the ‘elevator pitch’ for demographic transition: rather than a single theory, it is a number of theories based upon the idea that fertility rates (TFR) drop after death rates drop because it is not necessary to have “excess” children to result in the family size you want. Closely related is the idea that as economic opportunities increase there is less need for children to add to family income. Seems pretty simple, really; as fewer children die in their youth and you need fewer hands in the fields, people have fewer kids.
Well, its wrong. More and more research shows that decreases in TFR do not show any real correlation to decreases in infant mortality, the death rate, or economic progress in the developing world. The discrepancies between death rate and TFR are especially strong outside Europe. The demographic transition theories assumed that a higher percentage of children would reach adulthood and that they would live longer, creating ‘positive population pressure’ to offset the decreases in TFRs. In reality, this is certainly not reliable, causing population projections to be consistently too high.
Another accepted truth that ‘the more education a woman has, the fewer children she has’. In my first post on population I mentioned an Israeli study that showed that this was not true for women who self-identified as ‘devout’ who were Jews or Catholics; instead, devout Jewish and Catholic women tended to have more children as their education increased. More and more research is showing that any correlation between education and a decline in fertility is local, not global.
The TFR for ‘Ultra-Orthodox’ Jews in Israel is 7.0 compared to the national 2.44. In the United States the TFR of Catholics after 1965 was largely seen as no different than any other group. Indeed, some reports claimed that White Catholics had the lowest TFR in America in the mid-‘70’s. Now, however, the American Catholic TFR is highest (about 2.4), especially among Hispanic women (perhaps as high as 2.8).
In short, my earlier predictions were a bit too positive. The population maximum will probably be about 7.3 billion, the maximum will probably be reached in about 2030, and the post-peak population decline will be faster – mainly because of the recently increased death rate.
Don’t get me wrong, I am certain Humanity won’t erase itself. But there will be major changes in geopolitics and economics, changes that will be painful.
One thing that I have never understood is the general assumption by demographers that the stunning decreases in TFR were a natural adjustment to overpopulation. This general assumption is that the spike in births after WWII caused a reaction where women all over the world reduced their fertility to adjust back to a ‘better’ world-wide population. In my opinion, this makes no sense. After all, the key indicators tied in to decreasing TFR are improvements in quality of life; more income, more education, better economic factors within the surrounding society, etc. Why is it that all of those factors caused increases in local fertility until about 1960 and then, overnight, they lead to lower fertility – fertility low enough to endanger entire ethnic groups with extinction?
The Deep Thought Analysis Team has a theory that explains the precipitous decline in global TFR. The first component of this theory is the media.
The UN has been predicting a long-term reduction in population since at least 1972 while at the same time adjusting the peak population downward since 1970. The reports on population have been freely and widely available. However, the media’s attention between 1970 and about 2001 was always on the implication of the highest projected population. From the sensationalistic news coverage in the early 1970’s to the mass coverage of the ‘year 6 billion’, the news is generally very committed to warning of overpopulation as an issue.
‘Entertainment’ has also been pounding the overpopulation drum during that time. From Soylent Green to Population movies have been almost as negative as fiction novels, which range from Make Room! Make Room! (the basis for Soylent Green) and Stand on Zanzibar to dozens of others. The number of non-fiction books to speak of overpopulation is immense, beginning with The Population Bomb in 1968. Paul Ehrlich became a celebrity for The Population Bomb, a celebrity that has faded little over time, despite the failure of any of his predictions to come true.
This outpouring of fiction, non-fiction, news, and activism warning the world of overpopulation has convinced a large number of people that the greatest danger to the Earth is too many people. This doomsaying and outreach continued while the UN and demographers were predicting lower and lower peak populations each year. During the intervening four decades there have been fewer deaths from starvation than ever before in history (despite the widely-publicized political starvation of people in Ethiopia and Somalia), the caloric intake of the developing world is up 28%, India (supposedly a nation that would be ‘erased’ by famine) is an exporter of food, and the largest health threat in America may be obesity. Indeed, food is so plentiful that current food commodity prices are less than 50% of their 1970 level (adjusted for inflation); a reduction so sharp, the prices are still lower without adjusting for inflation.
The second component of our theory for plunging TFRs is the unique changes in reproduction in the last 40 years.
Until 1930 the use of artificial contraception was condemned by all Christian denominations and was generally illegal in the West. After the authorized the use of artificial contraception in 1930, however, all major Christian organizations but the Catholic Church followed suit within a few years. However, most forms of contraception remained illegal or difficult to obtain until the repeal of certain state laws began in the late 1950’s, resulting in the broad availability of prophylactics about 1960. The first effective oral contraceptive (‘the Pill’) was also made available in 1960 (although not generally available until about 1965). Finally, throught the 1960’s and 1970’s abortion was being legalized, first in the West, then worldwide.
Thus the 1960’s were the first time in human history that contraceptives were both readily available and actually effective. Their introduction at the same time as the media and cultural belief in and promotion of the idea of apocalyptic overpopulation resulted in a massive push to promote radical population control in the form of dispensing birth control world-wide, especially to the developing world. Planned Parenthood, the UN, and dozens of organizations and governments have spent up to tens of billions of dollars per year providing contraceptives and abortion services throughout the globe. Massive education campaigns are conducted advocating the use of contraceptives and fighting for access to and the subsidizing of abortion. Indeed, the promotion of birth control and abortion is so forceful that have been cases where ‘family planning’ equipment bumps medicines and even food off of relief supply trips; the birth control is seen as more ‘essential’.
The third component of the theory has to do with attitudes.
In the 1860’s Sir Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) came to the conclusion that civilization was thwarting natural selection in humans. In 1865 he wrote ‘Hereditary Talent and Character’, a key element in the creation of Social Darwinism, or the belief that the poor, ignorant, unsuccessful, less intelligent, etc. were genetically undesirable. Galton, however, also went on in later works to advocate the artificial selection of humans for genius. Along with a number of other writers and thinkers, this developed into the concepts of eugenics.
By the beginnings of the 20th Century eugenics was considered a social science and major universities around the world (except in Catholic nations) taught courses on eugenics as a mainstream science. Largely seen as a ‘progressive’ science, it was focused on bettering mankind. Proponents of Eugenics included Alexander Graham Bell, W.E.B. DuBois, and William Shockley.
Another prominent eugenicist was Margaret Sanger (who was the primary source of funds for the development of the Pill). Margaret Sanger worked with Harry Laughlin (a prominent eugenicist inspired Nazi sterilization laws) and actively promoted birth control chiefly as a method of ensuring “more children from the fit, less from the unfit”. Sanger also campaigned hard for both compulsory sterilization laws (she was largely successful in this) and a requirement that a married couple demonstrate ‘fitness’ before being licensed to have a child (something she failed at). This attitude, that the right to have children should be restricted by the government, was echoed in The Tragedy of the Commons, a book released at the same time as The Population Bomb.
The eugenics concept popularized the idea of children as a commodity; ‘fit’ children were seen as a positive, ‘unfit’ children as a negative. Combined with the economic arguments of Planned Parenthood, society came to see children as a burden that must be justified. When added to the overpopulation hysteria, the result is the conclusion by many that having children is inherently evil.
The fourth component of the theory is more subtle than many of the others and a bit harder to quantify.
As mentioned above, the conventional wisdom about fertility has been that; well informed women have fewer children; Highly-educated women also have fewer children; wealthy women have fewer children than poor women; women with a successful career have fewer children, too. Whether these statements are true or false, they are repeated in the media, the classroom, and by advocates of birth control.
The result is not that women with few or no children are lauded, but that women with ‘too many’ children are seen as ignorant, poorly educated, poor, and as failures. This may be especially true in the developing world where women are trying to emulate their ideal of success, or what they are told will result in wealth and freedom.
The entire theory posits that the prevalence and acceptance of birth control and abortion combined with the concepts that children are a burden that must be justified, that overpopulation is a dire and imminent threat, and the social pressures that stigmatize mothers of large families, are acting to drive down fertility rates around the world.
The implications of this are pretty serious; if true, there is no inherent counter to the trend. As long as the various pressures to lower TFRs exist, they should continue to go down. At some point we must assume that the general population will recognize that overpopulation is not an issue, let alone a threat, and TFRs will begin rebounding. Unfortunately, this may not happen until after the die-off of entire cultures, even entire races.
In the absence of such a realization, we must depend upon the actions of religion. Certain religions, primarily Judeo-Christian religions, advocate an expanding population as inherently positive. At current rates, this means that Orthodox Jews and conservative Catholics will increase as a percentage of the global population, and this increase will only accelerate over the next 100 years.
I dislike making predictions about something as variable as population growth, but it is conceivable that the Earth of 2300 will have a population of 5 billion people; 1 billion Jews, 3 billion Catholics, and 1 billion ‘everyone else’.