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Interview by W. Bradford Wilcox
Fertility, Faith, & the Future of the West
Phillip Longman is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, where he studies health care policy and demography. A former editor at U. S. News & World Report, Longman is the winner of UCLA's Gerald Loeb Award, the top prize for investigative journalism from Investigative Reporters and Editors. His 2004 book The Empty Cradle (Basic Books) explores the impact of declining fertility rates on the social, economic, and political health of societies across the globe.
Since the 1960s, many in the West have been deeply concerned about the social and environmental consequences of population growth—witness, for instance, the popularity of Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb. In the United States, our population recently passed the 300-million mark. Should we in the West still be concerned about population growth at home and abroad?
World population is still increasing by some 77 million annually. That's equivalent to adding a whole new country the size of Egypt every year. Yet here is a curious fact few people know: the number of children under 5 in the world is actually smaller than in 1990.
How can this be? Mostly it is because of the massive global decline in birthrates. Now, in literally every region outside of sub-Saharan Africa, the average woman no longer bears enough children to replace the population. For now, world population continues to grow, though at a slower and slower rate, primarily because of the enormous increase in the numbers of elderly people. But many countries, such as Russia and Japan, are already shrinking in absolute size, and on current trends, global depopulation will occur within the lifetime of today's young adults.
Why should we be worried about falling birthrates in Europe and the United States? What are the social, economic, and political implications of this demographic phenomenon for the West?
For nations, as for people, there are many benefits to not having children, at least until you grow old. Many economists believe, for example, that ...