First, global population growth is slowing to a halt and will begin to shrink within 60 years. Second, as the work of economists Esther Boserups and Julian Simon demonstrated, growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation. Think about it: Since 1970, commodity prices have continued to fall and America’s environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable—even though our population has increased by more than 50%. Human ingenuity, it turns out, is the most precious resource.
But this resource is disappearing, fast. America’s total fertility rate stands below the 2.1 replacement rate at 1.93. For college educated white women, whom Last describes as a good indicator of the middle class, it is just 1.6.This is not only an American problem; it’s a global problem. In the Muslim world, where one would assume fruitfulness is still going strong, fertility is actually waning. WaPo’s David Ignatius cites demographer Nicholas Eberstadt’s research: “Using data for 49 Muslim-majority countries and territories, [Eberstadt] found that fertility rates declined an average of 41 percent between 1975-80 and 2005-10, a deeper drop than the 33 percent decline for the world as a whole.” Iran has faced one of the most striking drops, with its fertility rate declining by 70 percent in just 30 years. And this trend also includes Latin America and Asia. In fact, “97% of the world’s population now lives in countries where the fertility rate is falling,” says Last.At Via Meadia we believe that vitality is a test of validity—that a social system or a set of ideas that leads to a catastrophic population crash is demonstrably off-base. Much of the decline in fertility correlates with the development of poorer countries, increasing literacy and education of women, a migration from the country to the city, and a collapse in infant mortality rates with the arrival of modern medicine. All good things. But as Last describes, a population that is both shrinking and increasingly elderly leads to stalled innovation and other serious economic and political problems.Everyone should be welcome to live life as they choose, remaining single or childless if that suits them. Freedom really does matter. But at the same time we ought to be thinking hard about how to make our society and our culture more child-welcoming. It’s a matter of life and death.