Ruminations March 30, 2014
Mother Nature wants us to multiply;
It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature
-- Back in the 1970s, there was a television commercial for Chiffon Margarine. The margarine, we were told, tasted just like butter – in fact it was so good, it could fool Mother Nature herself. When Mother Nature tries Chiffon, thinks it’s butter and then realizes that she’s been fooled, she conjures up a thunder storm and admonishes the viewers that it is not nice to fool Mother Nature (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLrTPrp-fW8).
Are we trying to fool Mother Nature today by diminishing the importance of parenthood and children? It would seem that we are.
Replacement fertility rate. The replacement fertility rate is the number of children the average woman needs to have for a given state to maintain its population. That number is 2.1. At various times in modern history — during war, famine or depression — birthrates have temporarily fallen below the replacement rate.
In the United States, the fertility rate is precisely where it should be – 2.1 -- and that seems good – but it is misleading (more about that below).
In the rest of the developed world the news is not so good. In the European Union, according to Eurostat, the fertility rate was 1.59 in 2009. And in the former Soviet Union States, the UN tells us that the rate is below 1.7. Japan has a rate of 1.4, China is 1.6, Singapore is 1.2, and South Korea is 1.1.
When European women ages 18 to 34 were asked in another study to state their ideal number of children, 16.6 percent of those in Germany and 12.6 percent in Austria answered “none.” For some, childlessness is emerging as an ideal lifestyle.
But what about the undeveloped world? Those numbers are trending down, too. The head of Thailand’s department of health, Krasuang Satharanasuk, announced Thailand’s fertility rate had fallen to 1.5.
Worldwide, the replacement rate has fallen from 6.0 in 1972 to 2.9 today. And as agriculture has mechanized, people have moved to urban areas where the cost of living is much higher, mitigating against large families.
Hans-Peter Kohler, José Antonio Ortega and Francesco Billari, authors of “Low Fertility in Europe: Causes, Implications and Policy Options,” noticed that -- for the first time in recorded history -- birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3 -- a magic number. At 1.3, a country’s population would be halved in 45 years.
Opinions differ regarding radical Islam. Although many fear that these populations have high birth rates, Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist/demographer with the American Enterprise Institute, tells us that “all Muslim majority countries/territories for which data are available saw fertility decline in the past 3 decades” and decline dramatically (it declined 70 percent in Teheran, for example).
The downside of a lower fertility rate. Is this bad? After all, smaller populations mean lower demand for resources, space and jobs. On the other hand, society is set up to function with increasing populations.
Consider social services such as Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare. In each of these services, younger and working-age populations support the older and non-working populations. Fewer children being born projects into fewer people entering the work force and fewer people supporting the older populations (which are growing). In fact, Japan and China have already seen their working-age populations decrease in recent years and the numbers are unlikely to reverse.
Further, the United States has an enormous debt that, if not paid down, at some point must be reduced drastically. This debt pay-down will have to be made by the workers -- whose numbers are dwindling.
Replacement rate in the U.S. When considering native born women, the fertility of U.S. the population is below replacement. If we add in immigrants (most of whom come to the U.S. from countries with higher fertility rates than that of the U.S.), then the replacement rate hits the 2.1 figure.
But immigration is only a temporary respite. Traditionally, the second generation of immigrants has lower fertility rates than their parents and mirrors the rest of society.
Is there a solution? None is apparent. Singapore, among others, has tried several monetary incentives which have had little effect. Whereas in previous generations, larger families were looked upon as a positive, today smaller families or childless ones are viewed more favorably.
Evidently, you can fool Mother Nature – at least for a while.
Quote without comment
Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI writing in “The Spiritual Roots of Europe: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” in his book Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam: “Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as if they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen as a liability rather than as a source of hope. There is a clear comparison between today’s situation and the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already subsisting on models that were destined to fail. Its vital energy had been depleted.”