Saturday, March 23, 2013

America's Coming Demographic Disaster

In his book What to Expect When No One's Expecting, Jonathan Last writes a comprehensive description of why there is a birth dearth almost world-wide. And those few countries which are not experiencing this fertility decline will do so, just as soon as they come under the influences of the developed world. 

Writing about America, Last doesn't shy away from giving the statistics on sexual patterns and the declining birth rate, along with increased abortion rates, increased contraceptive use, as well as showing the attendant increase in housing costs, the higher education of women and their entry into the work force in greater numbers. He even briefly tackles child safety seat regulations which my husband has always pointed out are essentially anti-child.

He turns his attention to other countries as well, writing about Russia (such an ill-starred country), China, Japan, France, Romania, Poland to mention just a few. This is not a book full of statistics, but rather a commentary on what he concludes from the statistics he has studied. And there is a comprehensive list of first-hand sources for anyone who wishes to study the sources for himself.

The sad conclusion is that no country that has faced demographic decline to the point of the fertility rate dropping below 1.4%, has ever made a comeback. The birth dearth is part of, if not the main cause, for that country's economic collapse. There is only one exception that Last can see and that is the country of Georgia where the strong religious faith of the people seems to be the factor that is turning the tide for that country.

So why don't we hear more about this impending disaster? For years I have noticed the changing nature of our neighbourhood. Twenty-five years ago, this street had many families living on it, with a total of 20 school-aged children resident there. Today, the same street has a total of five families with a total number of nine children under the age of eighteen. All other houses are occupied by single people or elderly couples such as ourselves. When I point this out to neighbours, they reply that the families have moved to the suburbs where housing is cheaper (this is partly true), but they fail to connect the dots that they themselves have no children and are part of the problem.

But they don't see it as a problem. As Last points out, a country that has had a low fertility rate for years also has a lower expectation when it comes to having children. The fact that people have fewer children actually produces people who want fewer children.

What to conclude? In two generations, we have changed from a society that held the family as valuable and was willing to make sacrifices for that family, to a society of individuals who seek their own fulfilment first. Hence the number of up-scale cafes, doggie grooming shops, outdoor equipment stores, with these businesses pushing out the stores that sell kids' clothing and strollers.

So while our society claims to being more tolerant and inclusive, i.e. warmer human beings, we actually are doing the opposite. We are honing our ability to tolerate differences amongst others but only when it comes to things that don't really cost us very much. When it comes to personal sacrifice, such as raising a family, whoa hold on - no one can really expect that much of us, can they?

So we are essentially becoming a more selfish society. How can we deny it?  Here in the west, we now have much more than our parents ever had, and we expect much more for ourselves too. Children get in the way of that self-fulfilment in every way, financially, emotionally, psychologically.

Last ends his book with two quotes, one from Teddy Roosevelt in 1905, and the other from Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, and for these we have the respect and sympathy always due to those who, from no fault of their own, are denied any of the other great blessings of life. But the man or woman who deliberately foregoes these blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow-heartedness, self-indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate aright the difference between the all-important and the unimportant - why, such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him, and who though able-bodied is yet content to eat in idleness the bread which others provide.  - Teddy Roosevelt

Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as if they were taking something away from our lives, Children are seen as a liability rather than as a source of hope.  -  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

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