August 23, 2005


US fertility rate remains high (Press Trust of India, August 23, 2005)

As India continues to top the fertility rate, the US is the only major economic power now with fertility rates high enough to keep the size of its work force relatively constant as the population ages.

Too high a birth rate leads to poverty. Too low a birth rate leads to the economy going downhill. Ideally, it should be at the replacement rate of two per couple or 2.1, says the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based think tank.

The fertility rate or the number of lifetime births per woman, of major economies is now: India 3, US 2, France 1.9, U.K. 1.7, China 1.6, Russia 1.4, Germany, Japan and Spain 1.3 and South Korea 1.2. [...]

"The US is one of the few states where the fertility rates have been holding steady," William Butz, director of the bureau which is funded by the Ford and Gates foundations, among others, told The Wall Street Journal.

And Japan dies, Decline in population sparks fears for economy (Leo Lewis, 8/24/05, Times of London)
JAPAN’S population is on track to show its first annual decline, raising fears over the outlook for the world’s second-biggest economy and the ability of its welfare system to cope. [...]

Economists fear an unstoppable era of population decline. Many analysts believe that as the problem becomes more acute the social security system will come under intolerable strain. [...]

For economists and social scientists, the warning signals of the impending demographic crisis have been there for decades. Japan’s rate of population growth began slowing in the late 1970s and reached a record low last year. The present Japanese birth rate of 1.29 children born to each woman is well below the replacement level of 2.08, and the problem is spectacularly acute in Tokyo, where the rate is 0.99.

The dramatic fall in Japanese birth rates and the ageing of the population has been well documented, but few policy initiatives have had any impact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 23, 2005 11:20 PM

It seems to me that no economic or social policy that is consistent with fiscal and political sanity can reverse the process of population colllapse once the fertility rate falls below one.

The short term benefits to the remaining workers are enormous.

Diminishing political power for the young.

Very little competition from those younger to take your job.

Greater personal economic and social freedom (no children to feed, clothe or educate).

Nothing short of what many would now consider draconian legislation. (e. g.; Abolition of abortion; reductions of legal and economic status for women) can reverse the trend.

The remaining young could very well chose to emigrate rather than pay the outstanding bills due the retired and soon to be retired.

Massive (legal or illegal) mmigration or a 'guest worker" policy will solve the immediate problem, but not without a significant loss of cultural "integrity". This is in effect how the United States is addressing the problem.

Posted by: Earl Sutherland at August 24, 2005 1:58 AM

The Japanese will be fine. There will be short term drop of population, and then the culture will fix itself up and stabilize again. There will likely be lots of angst, but few actual problems.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at August 24, 2005 12:26 PM


Their government just 'fell' because it could not agree to reform the post office (and a small part of their banking system). What will they do about pensions, old age care, medical care, and taxation in general?

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 24, 2005 1:58 PM

Japan will have many, MANY problems over the next forty years, but eventually their population will stabilize, and begin to grow again.

The question is, just how low is their stability level ?
Half of the current population number ?
40% ?

In the U.S., women are already rejecting the empty career path in favor of the mommy-track, so I would expect to see American fertility numbers creep up over the next few decades.

The best of Europe and Japan WILL emigrate, and since the U.S. will be facing a labor shortage at the same time, America should absorb a large percentage of 'em.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 24, 2005 2:18 PM


Posted by: oj at August 24, 2005 2:52 PM


Bit sexist there, aren't we? Or are you just letting the conceptual macro trump the micro? Just how is "the culture" going to fix itself up? Are Japanese women going to suddenly have more kids en masse because bureaucrats and seers from the blogosphere tell them it will be good for the nation? Try "Hon, let's cut back and have another to help push up that national fertility rate to replacement levels" on your wife and see what happens.

Posted by: Peter B at August 24, 2005 3:14 PM


Because fertility levels are an average, not a mean.
Fertility levels vary among various subgroups of any culture, and the descendants of members of those subgroups are influenced both by the mainstream culture, and their heritage.

In the U.S., for example, immigrants to the U.S. have more children than native-born women, and their children have more children, as well.
Same with various religious groups, such as the Mormons.

Thus, the people having two or more babies in Japan will form the core of an expanding fertile population within the larger, less-fertile culture.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 25, 2005 4:40 AM

What people? They don't allow immigration. When they do allow in a breeeding immigration population it will replace the natives.

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 8:41 AM

It's a mistake to assume that children will replicate the fertility trend of their parents, either on the high or the low side. My parent's 6 children have produced 5 grand-children. The baby boomers opinions on child-rearing were formed during the 60s and 70s, with the emphasis on career advancement for women and fears of the population bomb. Sometimes it seems that we tend to do the opposite of our parents.

I remember listening to a conversation on an airplane. A women was telling her companion that she grew up as an only child and always felt lonely and isolated. She envied children from big families and said that she intends to have many children. I grew up in a family of 6 children and always felt crowded. I could never get any privacy. I envied only children when I was young.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 25, 2005 2:49 PM


It's all just culture. No secular welfare state is going to have reasonable fertility rates. Statism is designed to atomize and does so.

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 2:53 PM

Culture doesn't stay the same from one generation to the next.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 25, 2005 3:20 PM

Generally stays the same for quite a number of generations.

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 3:29 PM
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