For the first time on record, Japan's population has started to decline -- a troubling demographic low point long expected but reached two years earlier than predicted. Figures released by the government, based on preliminary data up to October, show that the number of deaths exceeded births in 2005 for the first time since officials started keeping records in 1899.The problems this trend is likely to create beggars the imagination:
"If the number of children keeps decreasing, economic problems will result, such as a reduction in the labor force and a slowdown in spending," the Yomiuri Shimbun daily commented on Friday. "The sustainability of the social security system will be at risk, too."Shrinking numbers of younger workers will increasingly be employed in industries that provide services to the elderly instead of engaging in innovative and entrepreneurial activities that create wealth. Tax rates will be raised to cover the healthcare and social security costs for an expanding number of people who will require such services. This will further slow economic growth and human progression. Enormous amounts of human capital will leave the marketplace via retirement without being fully replaced. The economic pressure this will put on the shoulders of the younger may lead them to have even fewer children than their parents, further accentuating the problem. Hopefully SENS research will make a breakthrough that finally defeats aging and renders the problem of less fertility a thing of the past, but I'm not content to count on it.
As fewer children have been born, the ideal family size has also shrunk:
When preferred family size was first measured by Gallup in the U.S. in 1936, two thirds of Americans thought that three or more children were ideal, and the meanI am not aware of the trends in Japan, but here at home this is yet another badge of honor the sixties' cultural revolution can wear with pride. The revolution can put that ornament next to its accomplishments in plateauing the high school graduation rate, seeing that the poverty rate bottomed out, and pushing both the divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates through the roof. The baby boomer generation came to an end in 1964, and the bra-burning, abortion-loving, pill-popping began.
number of children preferred was 3.6. Those preferences held steady for the next
three decades, through 1967. A poll conducted in 1973 recorded a substantial change -- with preference for three or more children declining to 51% and the mean number preferred dropping to 2.8. By 1980 the figures had dropped to 40% favoring three or more children, with an average number of 2.5. U.S. opinion on this issue has remained stable at this level since then.
Declining fecundity in the developed world is the most potent problem first world nations face. Yet it gets almost no attention. Bring it up and you're apt to get a baffled look followed by a response about how there are too many poor children in the world. Indeed there are. And there's not enough rich ones. Check out the CIA Factbook's fertility ranking by country. The top three baby bastions (average births per woman), and their PPP:
1) Niger, 7.55, $900
2) Mali, 7.47, $900
3) Somalia, 6.84, $600
And the most barren, followed by PPP:
1) Hong Kong, .93, $34200
2) Macau, 1.00, $19400
3) Singapore, 1.05, $27800
This obvious but often overlooked inverse relationship between wealth and procreation augments the gap between the haves and have-nots. It also has a dysgenic effect. If Bill and Melinda Gates have one child, at their passing the child stands to inherit $60 billion (for argument's sake--I realize the Gates have three children and do not plan on giving them much at this point). If Joe and Mary Janitor have five kids and a net worth of $50,000, each kid will get $10,000. This looks too much like Latin America. We have a prince with $60 billion and five paupers with a measly $10 grand.
If we swap fecundity, we start to look more like middle America. The Gates have five kids and the Janitors only have one. Thus, the five mini-Gates inherit $12 billion apiece, and the Janitor gets $50,000. From a prince and five paupers we go to five members of the aristocracy and one worker with enough to buy a modest house.
These are extremes, but they illustrate conceptually how the affluent having many kids and the impoverished having fewer children closes the wealth gap. In addition, IQ is largely heriditary (between 40% and 90% on the fringes, with 75% being a common assumption) and IQ and income have a moderate, (IQ explaining around 15%) statistically significant correlation. In the second scenario with five Gates and one Janitor, we close the wealth disparity and raise the population's average intelligence.
The child tax credit gives US taxpayers $1,000 (not a deduction from income, but an actual credit, which is essentially as good as cash) for each urchin, but it begins phasing out at an adjusted gross income of $110,000 for married couples and $75,000 for singles (it's completely gone at $129,001 and $94,001, respectively). The credit should instead increase as AGI increases to encourage those most able to have children to produce the little scamps, and conversely discourage those who cannot afford children from bringing them into life with the card's stacked against them. This proposal may sound callous, but if knee-jerk emotive reactions are discarded in favor of rationality, it really makes sense.
The West is dying. By 2050, the West (Western Europe, the US, Canada, Austalia, and New Zealand) will represent less than 10% of the world's population. Fifty years ago, it represented about 25%. The US is in better shape than Europe, with births per woman just a hair below replenishment at 2.08. But this is misleading, as it is immigrants from another culture who are pushing that number upwards (estimated at around 3.25 births for first generation Latinos). For non-Hispanic whites it is only 1.85.
We need policies that raise the number of immigrants of merit who come to the US and financial incentives that encourage natives, especially the middle and upper classes, to have more children. We can reverse this dwindling trend in births, but if we don't, dire consequences await.