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Declining fertility rates will have larger impacts

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By Doug Gardner
Columnist

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What can we expect when no one's expecting?

The U.S. fertility rate hit a 30-year low last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced. You may have missed this nugget in the mainstream media amid the deluge of all things Trump/Russia all the time.

The CDC reported that American fertility rates fell to 60.2 babies per 1,000 women in 2017. Total fertility of 1.8 births per woman is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 lifetime births. It’s the lowest total fertility rate since records have been kept. More Americans died than were born in 2012 for the first time, the CDC previously reported.

The U.S. is not alone in this trend, especially among developed Western nations. Japan and Italy have total fertility rates around 1.4, a mathematical tipping point at which population will decline 50 percent in 45 years. Singapore is at 1.1, as is Greece, which, not coincidentally, has the weakest economy in Europe.

All of this probably is news to people on both sides of the political divide. Thomas Malthus warned at the end of the 18th century that population growth would always overwhelm agricultural production, leading to "inevitable famine." His tradition continued with eugenicists like Margaret Sanger, who predicted in the 1920s that "human weeds" would inherit the earth. As I emerged from college in the 1970s, Paul Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" was on the best-seller charts.

Turns out they all were wrong. It is a shrinking population that poses a long-term threat to peace, prosperity and a brighter future. I'm not here to tell any couple, much less any woman, how many children to have, or whether to have any at all.

But I will insist that being aware of the consequences of a future with a shrinking population is vital. Marriage and childbirth are not just private lifestyle choices.

Fewer children born assures, with mathematical certainty, that a nation will become older. An older population is an increasingly risk-averse population living lives circumscribed by fear. Entrepreneurs are young. They are not usually octogenarians.

An older population creates a shrinking labor force. Democrats fantasizing about free college education and Medicare for all need to have more babies who will become taxpayers to foot the bill for these programs. Immigration can partly replace natural population growth. Republicans must find a way to encourage legal entry of high-value immigrants by shortening and simplifying the process and reducing the cost of becoming a citizen legally.

Jonathan Last, who penned the book, “What To Expect When No One is Expecting,” warns that both domestic and foreign policy will be affected by the decline in fertility. China’s recently abandoned 40-year policy of one-child per couple will assure that by mid-century that nation will be losing 4 million people per year.

Russia, with a total fertility rate of just 1.3, is on track to lose one-third of its population by 2050, Last calculated.

Contracting economic bases, combined with nuclear weapons, could render both countries like wounded animals with “very little to lose” during the second half of this century, Last predicted.

Population trends could affect domestic politics. Children often vote as their parents do. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Donald Trump carried the 10-most fertile states in 2016. Hillary Clinton won the 10-least fertile states.

Author Last despairs of government solutions to the birth dearth. Reproduction historically is grounded in religious faith. Indeed, observant Catholics and Protestants have 35 percent more children than those who do not attend church.

Ending the hostility to religion in much of the public square might beget more taxpayers.

Alas, children get in the way of capitalists devoted to upward mobility and self-improvement, and to secularists devoted to increasing their pleasure and comfort.

Doug Gardner is a resident of the Weeksville section of Pasquotank County.

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