Monday, March 19, 2007

Birthrates, climate can turn on a dime?

In his commentary on Mark Steyn's America Alone (which takes a thorough look at demographic trends in the Occident, overlapping Pat Buchanan's Death of the West that was published a couple of years before), David Frum caught the attention of Matt Yglesias:
David Frum, reviewing Mark Steyn's book, makes a great point that's been weirdly ignored during the contemporary fad over demographic fear-mongering: "Demographic trends have a surprising way of reversing themselves with amazing rapidity. ..."

Of course, Yglesias likely knows the same thing is true regarding climate change. In the mid-seventies, after global temperatures had been cooling for more than three decades, global cooling was portrayed as an imminent danger of catastrophic proportions. Then global temperatures began rising and have continued to inch upwards over the last three decades, so cooling stopped being sensationalized (for the worst, since global cooling presents a far more threatening existential threat to humanity than warming does) and warming became the story. Just because something has been capricious in the past doesn't mean it's prudent to write-off thinking about it in the present as a waste of time.

Demographic trends, like climate trends, have in their histories plenty of unexpected pivoting. But global temperature tracks rigorously with solar activity (CO2 emissions do as well, but trail temperature changes by several hundred years). What to do about the sun? Ideas are out there, but the subject is more arcane than fecundity patterns. Most people have some firsthand experience to bring to the table with respect to the latter.

Outside of Israel and the US (barely), the developed world is procreating at a rate below replenishment. Unique to most of human history, today affluence and fecundity are inversely related, accentuating the wealth gap and conceivably creating a dysgenic effect. And the full effects of birthing pattern shifts are felt generations after they begin, so it's hardly too early to be thinking about possible consequences and strategies surrounding what might be a societally-threatening sustained birth dearth.


expat said...

David Frum, reviewing Mark Steyn's book, makes a great point that's been weirdly ignored during the contemporary fad over demographic fear-mongering: "Demographic trends have a surprising way of reversing themselves with amazing rapidity. ..."

There is the problem of demographic momentum.
The new study, by O'Neill and his colleague Wolfgang Lutz, is the first on what they call the "demographic momentum" of the European Union. The momentum reversal in 2000 means "it is now like sailing against a current, towards population shrinkage and ageing", says Lutz.

The researchers calculate that even if Europe's fertility rate instantly recovered today to replacement levels, the population would continue to fall - from the present 376 million to 360 million by 2100.

al fin said...

The European Union birthrate isn't likely to recover until muslims make up a higher proportion of residents. One normal mating pair of muslims can make up for two or three nonperforming indigenous Euro mating pairs. That suggests that when muslims make up 1/3 the population of Europe, Europe will be effectively and irreversibly muslim for centuries.

There would be nothing wrong with a shrinking birthrate of Europeans if not for their tax-base-dependent welfare state, and if not for the threat of cultural genocide by muslims.

kurt9 said...

If the housing prices remain high in the U.S., you can kiss American "exceptionalism" in birth rates good bye in the next 5-10 years. Birthrates corelate more with housing costs more than anything else. Most U.S. cities now have housing prices similiar to those of Japan (although the houses are somewhat bigger). A typical house now costs twice what it did 7 years ago in most metro areas in the U.S. This is unlikely to continue. However, housing prices are unlikely to fall by much either. As such, I predict the U.S. birth rate to be comparible to that of Europe and East Asia within the next 5-10 years. Given that the amount of real estate is fixed (unless we have some kind of breakthrough in space colonization), the cost of housing is unlikely to ever decline. The reduction in birthrates is irreversable in the sense that it will not reverse itself within the lifespans of any of us who read this blog. In other words, it is permanent.

People like Mark Steyn and the other neo-cons need to get over their hang ups with this and get used to it. The decline in birth rates is a necessary consequence of industrialization, urbanization, and the increase of housing prices (and other costs associated with raising kids). Reversing the declining birthrates is an impossibility.

crush41 said...


Exactly. It's crucial to understand that productive citizens trail birthrate trends by a couple of decades at the least. Even if the trend will eventually reverse itself, we're already in dire straits if it does so tomorrow. We can't afford to squander anymore time, especially given how difficult it is to 'fix' the problem of birthing below replenishment, as Kurt mentions.

Al Fin,

Some, of course, are making the argument that third-world immigration is the solution to archaic, shrinking first-world populations.

For middle class Europeans, children are a luxury. But for Islamic migrants, they are a means to collect more in entitlements, enhance the opportunity to gain permanent residency, and a way to increase political clout. It's a vicious circle.


It's my hope that higher transportation prices over the shorter term will increase the utilization of working from home for many professionals (accountants, financial analysts, computer programmers, etc). Anything that allows people to move away from cities into the 'hinterlands' of suburbia and beyond will make the prohibitive cost of raising a family in metropolitan areas less of a barrier (through decreased demand for housing in the so-called golden ghettoes).

kurt9 said...


Telecommunting and home-based economic activity would help, but not significantly. The problem is that if you are spending much of your time in your home, you will want a bigger home, which would result in greater cost.

Also, the hinterland is quite good if it happens to be in an area with outdoor sports opportunities (e.g. Pacific Northwest, Alaska), but tends to suck if it is in, say, the mid-west, where everything is flat. The hinterland is, of course, no good for anything one likes in city life (good restarants, bars, nightlife, etc.).

As for the cities, even the ones in the midwest are getting expensive for housing. The guy who calls himself "Half-sigma" had a posting about how the independent nuclear family is quite anomalous in history in that young people have had the economic resources to be free and independent only in very brief periods in human history (i.e. American frontier in 19th century, post WWII era in past century). If this is is the case (and I think it is) then we have entered a period of permanent birthrate decline that will not reverse itself for centuries to come.

This is inevitable and any ranting and raving will not make it any different. I think it silly to make a fuss out of this issue.