Posts Tagged ‘Demographic Transition’

The rising human tide in Africa

September 7, 2019

“If the biggest global news story of the past 40 years has been China’s economic growth,” wrote demographer Paul Morland, “the biggest news story of the next 40 years will be Africa’s population growth.”

In his book, The Human Tide, Morland traced what’s called the demographic transition in society after society, from Britain and Germany to China and India.  The pattern is that societies experience surges in population when the death rate falls and life expectancy increases, but then the fertility rate levels off and then decreases.

In many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, the fertility rate is below 2.1 children per woman, which is the replacement rate.

In general, each successive society that underwent this transition had a bigger and more rapid surge in population than the ones that went before, but also a more sudden drop.  The latest region of the world to begin the demographic transition is sub-Saharan Africa, and that part of the world is still in the early stages of its population surge.

United Nations statistics quoted by Morland show that:

  • Of the 48 states and territories with fertility rates of 4 and above, all but seven are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nine out of 10 countries with the highest fertility rates are in Africa.
  • Every one of the 30 countries with the lowest life expectancy are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • All but two of the 30 countries with highest infant mortality rates and the lowest median age are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The population of sub-Saharan Africa is growing more than twice as fast as the world as a whole.

Fertility rates in Africa are falling, just as in the rest of the world, and Morland is confident they will continue to fall.  But they are falling from such a high level that there will be a population surge regardless.  Population growth depends not only on how many children the average woman has, but how many women there are of child-bearing age.

My knowledge of Africa is superficial, but it is obvious that conditions in sub-Saharan Africa are bad.  Much of Africa is at risk of famine.  Africa is torn by war and ravaged by drought—which can only get worse, as global temperatures rise.  Corruption is prevalent.  Although there are bright spots and encouraging signs, most African governments still are on a spectrum from corrupt semi-democracies to dictatorships for life.

I have to say that I have a good impression of African immigrants in the USA—not only highly educated professionals from Nigeria and Kenya, but also poor refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia, whom I got to know as a volunteer driver years ago for a Catholic refugee resettlement charity here in Rochester, N.Y..

Most of the refugees struck me as having great resilience, great personal dignity and a strong desire to repay the least little kindness.  Somali refugees were moved into a section of a public housing project, and the smell of Somali home cooking replaced the smell of marijuana in the hallways.  The managers were glad to have tenants who didn’t drink alcohol or take dope, play loud music late at night or get into fights in which the police had to be called.  From what I’m told, they’ve all thrived since.

(more…)

Preparing for an age of population decline

September 6, 2019

The fertility rate in virtually all countries is declining.  The fertility rate in much of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, is already below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per average woman.

If this goes on, world population will peak soon after the end of the century and start declining.  Populations of a few countries are declining already.

This is good news.  All other things being equal, it means less danger of famine, less pressure on the environment and less competition for scarce resources.

Click to enlarge.

But there are problems, too.  One is decline of nations as their populations become older and smaller.  Another is a change in the world balance of power during the transition, as some nations shrink while others continue to grow.

Two Canadian writers, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, explored these issues in a new book, EMPTY PLANET: The Shock of Global Population Decline.

The fertility rate is 1.4 in Japan and 1.1 in South Korea.  In the short term, this means an ever-larger elderly population that must be supported by an ever-smaller working age population.  I don’t think it is an accident that Japan has more robots per person than any other country.

A younger population tends to be more ambitious, innovative and warlike.  An older population tends to be more cautious and peaceful.  Older populations consume less, which is a good thing—but not for a capitalist economy, which requires growing markets.

In the long run, unless there is a change of direction, countries with low fertility rates could literally die out.  Americans and Canadians, with fertility rates of 1.8 and 1.5, have kept up national population numbers through immigration.  But the Japanese and South Koreans accept virtually no immigrants.  They see immigration as a threat to their racial and cultural purity.

In the short run, Japan and South Korea face economic decline and, in the long run, a slow fading from the world scene.  All countries whose birth rates fall below the replacement rate will face this dilemma sooner or later, the authors wrote.

Demographers have a term, “the population transition.”  It describes how countries go from having a high birth rate and high death rate to a high birth rate and low death rate (a population explosion) and end up with a low birth rate and low death rate.

This is often attributed to growing wealth, but Bricker and Ibbitson argued that the key factor is cultural change.  It is a combination of:

  • Feminism, women gaining control of reproduction and finding opportunities outside the home.
  • Urbanization, people moving to cities where, unlike on the farm, additional children are no longer an asset.
  • Modernity, people living for themselves instead of to perpetuate a family, faith or nation.

Feminism, urbanization and modernity explain how the fertility rate in Brazil, a poor country, can be 1.7,  well below the 2.1 replacement rate and below the 1.8 fertility rates of the United States and the United Kingdom.  This is good news because it means that the population transition can take place without the whole world adopting the American consumer culture.

When religion and nationalism are strong, fertility rates, all other things being equal, are likely to be high.  Loyalty to faith and nation  likely explain why the Israeli fertility rate is 3.1 and the Palestinian rate is 3.9.

(more…)

World power and the rise and fall of population

September 5, 2019

Modern-day demographers view the nations of the world at different stages of what’s called the demographic transition.   And what stage they’re in has a lot to do with their power on the world scene.

There are nations at an early stage of the transition, with high fertility rates (number of births per woman).  There are nations at a middle stage of the transition, with fertility rates falling but population still growing.  And there are nations at the end stage of the transition, where the fertility rate is less than needed to replace the current population.

A demographer named Paul Morland, in a book called THE HUMAN TIDE: How Population Shaped the Modern World, explained how population growth and decline is related to geopolitical power.  There are nations with small populations that are rich, and there are nations with large populations have been poor and weak, but there are no nations that are both small and powerful.

The first nation to undergo the modern demographic transition was England, Morland’s own country.  In the days of Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada, England was small and poor, compared not only to France, which was Europe’s largest nation, but also to Spain.

The high English birth rate enabled the English to grow strong and to found new nations—the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  In 1870, the English fertility rate was six children per woman.  British statesmen such as Cecil Rhodes foresaw a day when the English would overrun and rule the planet.

The high fertility rate of Anglo-Americans in the early 19th century explains their belief in their “manifest destiny” to create a nation that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Mexico was no match for the USA because its population growth had not yet taken off.  Texas and California were virtually empty when Anglo settlers poured in.

The demographic transition began in the 20th century.  The English fertility rate was down to three children per woman in 1914 and down to about two in the 1920s and beyond.

The English and French feared the higher German fertility rate.  They may have been more willing to go to war in 1914 than they otherwise would have been, because they feared Germany would have had a greater population advantage in the future.

The Germans, in turn, feared the higher Russian fertility rate.  They may have been more willing to go to war with Russia for the same reasons that the English and French were more willing to go to war with them.

Russia benefitted from its population surge.  During the Second World War, the Red Army suffered many more casualties than the Wehrmacht, but won not only through its courage and fighting ability, but its greater numbers.  If the opposing forces on the Eastern Front had been equal in numbers, Nazi Germany might have won the Second World War.

Now the fertility rate is below the replacement rate in all these countries—the USA (including all races and demographic groups, not just Anglos), the UK, Germany and the Russian Federation.

Americans, English, Germans and Russians are no longer spreading through the world.  Instead Mexicans have been moving into the United States, citizens of the former British Empire are moving into the UK and the formerly subject peoples of Central Asia are immigrating into the Russian Federation.

Morland’s history covered many other nations and all the world’s regions.  He did not of course claim that population is the only factor in world power, only that it is an important one.  There is a correlation, although not a perfect one, between the rise and decline of economic and military power and the rise and decline of population.

(more…)

World fertility rates: international comparisons

September 5, 2019

The fertility rate is the estimated number of children an average woman of child-bearing age will bear during her lifetime.

The replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman.  That is the average rate needed for a nation to keep its population stable.

The world average is 2.4 children per woman, down from 5 per woman in 1960.

The fertility rate doesn’t necessarily predict population growth on the short run.

A nation with a large fertility rate may have little or no population growth because of a high death rate.

A nation with a low fertility rate may have a good bit of population growth if its people are living longer or if there are an unusually large number of women of child-bearing age.

But in the present age, the fertility rate is the most meaningful indicator of whether a nation’s population will grow or decline in the long run.

Worldwide, fertility rates are declining.  If this continues, world population will grow at an ever-slower rate and then decline.  But this will happen sooner—it already has happened sooner—in some nations than others.

Here are the World Bank’s estimates of fertility rates for various nations.  Click on World Bank for the full list.

Niger, 7.2

Somalia, 6.2

Mali, 6.0

Nigeria, 5.5

Iraq, 4.3

Ethiopia, 4.1

Palestine, 3.9

Kenya, 3.8

Pakistan, 3.4

Egypt, 3.2

Israel, 3.1

Uzbekistan, 2.5

WORLD AVERAGE, 2.4

South Africa, 2.4

India, 2.3

Indonesia, 2.3

Argentina, 2.3

Mexico, 2.2

REPLACEMENT RATE, 2.1

Turkey, 2.0.

France, 1.9

North Korea, 1.9

Chile, 1.8

Ireland, 1.8

New Zealand, 1.8

Russia, 1.8

United Kingdom, 1.8

United States, 1.8

Brazil, 1.7

Cuba, 1.7

Australia, 1.6

China, 1.6

Germany, 1.6

Iran, 1.6

Canada, 1.5

Hungary, 1.5

Japan, 1.4

Ukraine, 1.4

Italy, 1.3

Spain, 1.3

Hong Kong SAR, 1.1

Puerto Rico, 1.1

South Korea, 1.1

The fertility rate is calculated by extrapolating the birth rate.  Suppose that in a particular nation, there were 1 million women of child-bearing age and they gave birth to 100,000 children in a given year.  The average was 1/10th of a child per woman in a year.  If the child-bearing years are age 15 through 39, each of these 1 million women could be expected to give birth to an average of 3.5 children during her life.  Adjustments are made according to the age of the mother when the children were born.

(more…)

China abandons one-child policy

November 11, 2015

chinese_kids_by_peter_morgan_credit

One of the most momentous events in modern history was China’s adoption of the “one-child” policy in 1980.

figure1Now the Chinese government has done something almost equally momentous.  It has adopted a “two-child” policy.  Henceforth all Chinese couples will be allowed to have two children.

The one-child policy limited China’s population growth and, arguably, eliminated the threat of famine and made possible China’s current relative prosperity.

But the Chinese paid a price for this, and not just in brutal violations of human dignity, including forced abortions.

chinapopulationpyramid70China has a population imbalance, because Chinese couples traditionally prefer boys to girls.  This means there are millions of eligible Chinese men who will never find a spouse.

China faces an age imbalance, with an increasing elderly population and a shrinking working-age population.

And China faces a geo-political imbalance.  The population of India, China’s chief rival in Asia, will exceed China’s if present trends continue.  This affects the balance of power.  Bertrand Russell wrote somewhere that if there ever is to be peace among nations, they will have to agree on limitations of population as well as limits on arms.

demographic_transition_detailedMy hope for the Chinese, and for other peoples, is that they go through a demographic transition without government dictating to couples how many children they mahy have.

A demographic transition requires (1) a material standard of living sufficient that couples don’t think they have to have as many children as possible to be assured of survival in old age, and (2) women assured the freedom and knowledge they need to decide how many children they are to have.

(more…)