Birth rates are falling. In many countries, fewer children are being born than are needed to replace the previous generation. (The replacement rate is 2.1 – each woman, on average, would need to have 2.1 children to maintain a population at its current level.) In some nations, the populations are already falling. In others, the populations are being bolstered through immigration. That seems to be the central point the authors are making in this book. Immigration can offset the declining birthrate of the native population and allow nations to maintain robust and even growing populations and economies. Nations that severely restrict immigration, such as China and Japan, are likely to find themselves in a world of hurt as their populations age and they are left with too few people of working age to support or care for their senior citizens.
That’s all true and fairly obvious. Immigration has long been a proven means of creating and maintaining a vibrant economy, although it takes a special kind of society to embrace it. Those that are especially xenophobic cannot, but nations like the United States and Canada, which are defined as as being nations of immigrants, may do well…at least for a while (unless they screw up by closing their borders).
But immigration is not a long term solution because, as the authors point out, the declining birthrate is a global phenomenon. As societies become more urban, educated, secular, free, gender-equal, affluent, and healthy, they have fewer children. And although there are no guarantees, it seems reasonable to expect that these kinds of societal advances will continue to be achieved by nations around the world. This may take longer than the authors seem to envision. Societal change can be slow. There are even people who cherish traditions that enforce ignorance, superstition, and oppression and are willing to go to extreme measures to preserve them. But these are exceptions, and eventually, and not all that far in the future, the global population seems likely to start falling.
This, of course, has all sorts of implications, both good and bad. Pollution is likely to decrease. The number of fish in the sea is likely to increase. But the world economy may suffer from lack of workers and consumers and, as may all of the old folks who are dependent on them. Innovation may slow because of fewer young minds working on fresh ideas. This book doesn’t go into any detail about the cultural and technological changes that might mitigate such problems, but I can imagine several, which is why the prospect of a declining population wouldn’t bother me even if I were young enough to still be alive to witness it.
All in all, this is highly readable book about an important issue. I recommend it.