Let’s dive into this colossal issue unfolding on our global stage – the demographic crisis. Developed nations are looking at falling fertility rates. So, it’s easy to see how this situation has profound economic implications.
The Two Divisive Factions of the Debate
We’re faced with a stark divide in viewpoints, like standing on the edge of a chasm, gazing into the abyss.
On one side, you’ve got those who see population decline as a monster lurking in the shadows. Then these folks reckon a dwindling workforce will surge wage demands, increase worker power, and strangle businesses. The spectre of an ageing populace, they threaten, will squeeze social welfare, despite the irony that they’re often the ones advocating for cuts regardless of whether the population will decline. These “let’s shift our culture” folks seem in denial, shrugging off the economic realities that steer cultural change because they aim to stop wage growth and worker power. Folks want happiness for their kids, right?
On the other side of this divide, you’ve got the “degrowthers”, “decline is divine”, or “people are pollution” contingent. Their argument? The world is bursting at the seams with people, and a drop in numbers will ease Mother Nature’s burden. They believe a smaller population can lead to better paychecks, more trees, and boost everyone’s quality of life. They’re painting with a rather broad brush. There’s a blindness to history, a disregard for the intricate dance between population growth and the environment.
And so, really, let’s dig into the “people are pollution” philosophy. It’s grounded in the belief that we’re all crammed on an overcrowded planet, with each birth magnifying environmental crises like climate change, deforestation, and water scarcity. The remedy, they argue, is a smaller global headcount.
But wait, there’s a flaw in this narrative. We must understand how much of our environmental woes are birthed by population growth. It’s not like reducing ecological impact is synonymous with slashing population growth. Take France, for instance. Despite their numbers, they’re the poster child for minimal carbon emissions, all thanks to their extensive use of nuclear energy.
This perspective, this “people are pollution” mantra, it’s too often used as an excuse for harmful, often draconian measures. Remember China’s one-child policy?
Okay, let’s switch gears and discuss the “culture shifters.” Their argument pivots around falling fertility rates resulting from cultural evolution – individualism rising, traditional family values sinking. They think the key is turning our culture on its head and stoking the fertility rates again.
But then again, this perspective is laced with issues too. The hows of it all are far from clear. How do we change our culture to nudge up the birth rates? Various nations have tried and stumbled in this endeavour – look at the Axis powers during World War 2.
In today’s world, the ones peddling this philosophy push for hostile policies, like levying taxes on the childless, trimming or axing old-age benefits, or ramping up work hours to counter the population drop. Take South Korea, for example. The Yoon Suk Yeol government is ready to unleash a 69-hour work week or enter school a year earlier, all under the banner of combating population collapse. So, it’s terrible, really terrible.
The demographic crisis, it’s a beast of an issue; grappling with population decline is like untangling a Gordian knot. There are no silver bullets, no magical quick fixes. But hang on because we’ve seen that sustained policy-making and investment can do the trick. It will take grit, patience, and a commitment to bettering those programs, not slashing them.
So what’s working, really?
Let’s start with Israel. Now, the furthest end of the fertility debate would have us believe it’s all down to religion. It’s not. The secular Jews in Israel have twice as many kids as their American counterparts. Even among the ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Israelis are outpacing their American co-religionists by two kids on average. High fertility rates in Israel: it’s not just about being religious.
Talk to Israelis, and they’ll tell you about the robust financial support for families that boosts birth rates. And you’ve got this sense of community, this “we’re in this together” mentality that permeates even the secular Jewish culture. You see it in the kin-group support, the alloparenting (you know, the free childcare from friends and family), and the communal living in kibbutzes.
Czechia, they’re another success story. They’ve turned the fertility decline on its head through comprehensive re-familisation policies, making them the European front-runner of fertility rate growth in 2021.
They’re focusing on improving public services like childcare facilities and affordable housing, narrowing the gender pay gap, and offering financial incentives to employers for flexible work schedules. They’re also offering financial support for families, tax policies, and beefed-up parental benefits.
They’re big on individual choice, too, making services like assisted reproduction more affordable and ensuring easy access to contraceptives.
And then there’s France. In the 19th century, they were a demographic heavyweight with a booming population and economy. They were the trailblazers in the demographic transition, shifting from high to low fertility and mortality rates.
In 1870, France faced defeat at the hands of Prussia, spearheaded by Otto von Bismarck’s unification efforts. The French pinned their loss on a falling birth rate and began their pro-natal policy. This pro-birth stance has become part of the French cultural and governmental fabric.
Take the Family Allowances Fund, established in the 1930s. They’re dishing out parental leave and family allowances, spending a whopping 2.6% of their GDP to support families in 2014.
Despite other countries, once under the thumb of fascists or Nazis, shunning pro-natalist policies, the French embrace state-sponsored childcare as a step in children’s socialization. This allows for high participation of women in the workforce, and a balance between work and family life, nudging up those birth rates. So really, it’s working.
A Call to Action
The demographic crisis in developed countries is a complex issue with no easy solutions. Yet we know long-term investment and policy work well, but it will still take time and a willingness to improve, not cut, those programs.