Blog Post

Researchers Call Global Birth Dearth a "Turning Point " for Human Race

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist

A new report linking the strength of families to the economy has found that the rapidly declining birthrates around the world is ushering in an era of cultural and economic stagnation  due to rapidly aging and declining populations.

In a press release issued by the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, a study entitled "The Sustainable Demographic Dividend" conducted by researchers in five nations  is issuing dire warnings about the economic future of the world.

“A turning point has occurred in the life of the human race,” the report found. “The sustainability of humankind’s oldest institution, the family—the fount of fertility, nurturance, and human capital—is now an open question. On current trends, we face a world of rapidly aging and declining populations, of few children—many of them without the benefit of siblings and a stable, two-parent home—of lonely seniors living on meager public support, of cultural and economic stagnation.”

In almost every developed country, including most of Europe and East Asia and many in the Americas— from Canada to Chile—birth rates have fallen below the levels needed to avoid rapid population aging and decline, the report continues. The average woman in a developed country now bears just 1.66 children over her lifetime, which is about 21 percent below the level needed to sustain the population over time (2.1 children per woman).

Accordingly, the number of children age 0–14 is 60.6 million less in the developed world today than it was in 1965. Primarily because of their dearth of children, developed countries face shrinking workforces even as they must meet the challenge of supporting rapidly growing elderly populations.

"On current course, China is headed for demographic trouble, compared to other rising economic powers like India," says Phillip Longman, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a co-author of the lead essay in the report, "The Empty Cradle."

"Although marriage remains strong in China, persistent low fertility in China means that the Chinese workforce will be shrinking by mid-century, and this spells trouble for China's ability to compete on the global stage."

Longman points to Japan, Greece and Italy as examples of where persistent low fertility has had an impact on the current fiscal and financial crises now unfolding in those nations.

As far as the U.S. is concerned, this nation is one of the few in the developed world where the fertility rate is expected to remain close to replacement levels over the next few decades, but only if the economy recovers and remains strong. This is because for most of the last 40 years, about 25 percent of the change in the U.S. fertility rate from one year to the next can be attributed to changes in the economy.

Another impending problem considered by researchers is the impact the changing face of the family will have on future economies.

"The percentage of children born and raised in intact, married families, where they are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to become gainfully employed as adults, has sharply decreased. More than 40 percent of children are born outside of marriage in much of the Americas and Europe - from Canada to Chile, and from the United States to the United Kingdom."

The report projects that by 2023, a majority of children in the U.S. will be born outside of marriage. This is already happening in countries such as Chile where 68 percent of all children are born out of wedlock. The only exception to this trend is occurring in Asia and the Middle East where children are likely to be born and raised in intact, married families.

The study was co-sponsored by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, Universidad de los Andes (Chile), University of Asia and the Pacific (Philippines), Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Spain), Universidad de la Sabana (Colombia) and the Universidad de Piura (Peru).

"There is no greater need in business today than human capital," said Carlos Cavalle, president of the Social Institute in Barcelona, Spain, "and no greater source of those crucial skills and values than the family."

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