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The new demographics

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 18th, 2020 at 12:46:55 PM EST

The new demographics

Sir, - The finding of a study published in the Lancet medical journal that shows that the world's population is likely to peak in 2064 at about 9.7 billion, and then decline to about 8.8 billion by 2100 - two billion lower than some previous estimates - is to be welcomed. (World, July 15th).

It challenges the Malthusian view that human populations will always grow to consume the resources available and decline only through war, poverty, and plagues, arguing that improved education and access to contraceptives for women are the main cause of the reduction.

However, continued population and economic growth in a planet of finite and depleting resources is at the core of many of our problems - causing urban congestion, deforestation, pollution, environmental degradation, mass species extinction, pandemics, famines, droughts, storms, wars, forced migration and climate change.

Sharing the available wealth between fewer people will enable a better quality of life and standard of living for all, always assuming there is no further increase in inequality.

Concerns that a rising elderly population combined with a reduced working age population will place an unbearable strain on the young are overdone. Improved healthcare will improve not only life expectancies but the ability to work until a greater age.

Robotics, artificial intelligence, the knowledge economy, and other technological changes will continue to improve productivity and make wealth creation less dependent on workforce size.

Critical to achieving these desirable outcomes will be continued improvements in women's rights to determine their family size, availability of contraception, and the improvement of health and social care systems for the elderly, so that families are not over-sized to ensure that high child mortality rates do not result in their being insufficient children to look after their parents in old age.

The greatest danger is that demagogues and nationalist leaders will see any decline in their nation's population as a threat to their power and will seek to promote greater indigenous population growth to maintain ethnic "purity" and cultural dominance.

Small can be beautiful and less can be more.

Let us ensure a sustainable and safe future by keeping our overall population under control. - Yours, etc,


Population control can be a controversial topic. It's not that long ago when even contraception was a controversial subject in Ireland. Others argue that the problem is gross and growing inequality, and that there is no reason the Earth can't sustain a greater population if we all curtail our resource consumption.

But the fact is climate change and a mass extinction event is happening and it is too late to argue over the details. It doesn't have to be either/or and we can both curtail population growth and consumption per capita in the richer countries. A reduction in inequality is key to achieving any sustainability goals but that is not always a message the elites want to hear.

The Irish Times didn't publish my penultimate paragraph which read:

Hitler gave the "Mutterkreuz" medal or Mother's Cross to mothers having more than four children, in order to increase the population of the "Aryan race" and power of Nazi Germany, and many protestants in Ireland regarded the Ne Temere decree as an attempt to out breed them.

It contains too may memories of a dark time in our history when political and religious elites sought to extend their power through sheer force of numbers. But it isn't about a numbers game any more, its about a sustainable peace and prosperity where individual excess doesn't damage the common good.

A reduction in inequality is key to achieving any sustainability goals

How so, really?

Hierarchical or territorial inequality (particularly among males) is arguably how the nature addresses Malthusian pressures before they get out of hand. That sustainable inequality dynamics is perpetuated not just by male aggressiveness or looser discipline (as Dawkins wonders in the middle of "The Selfish Gene" while criticizing Wynne-Edwards), but by the no less remarkable female selective discipline as well.

The human socioeconomic hierarchy is just as harsh as any presumed Hobessian struggle in nature. And apart from the 20th century (or perhaps the whole industrial age), it has been similarly effective in controlling human population growth.

Empowering the female choice is a big part of the so-called demographic transition, but not quite in supposed egalitarian, ethically comfortable ways. For one thing, the family-or-career choice (or "balance") of women often becomes a comfortable occupation with nothing else happening. As I started my academic career in the always-early progressive Netherlands, I saw a few of those careers in their entirety. From their position, high-achieving women scarcely find men to admire (and then reciprocal attention). They would not realize in advance the dismal ratio of worthy heroes and creepy clowns from the high position. And secondly, magnification of socioeconomic inequalities (particularly regarding the creditor-debtor and rentier-tenant relations) by the unqualified female choice is hard to appreciate publicly for now.

Ultimately, the demographic decline will represent a mere correction to the post-industrial bounty. Humanity numbers will be "saved" by rich families with the traditional patriarchal structure, which tend to have just as many healthy children as ever. For the new generation of progressive female leaders and their rather powerless male allies, the message is: your best sexual experiences will probably come from lay pornography [Daily Kos link].

by das monde on Tue Jul 21st, 2020 at 09:24:51 AM EST
I don't dispute that social hierarchies have been key to containing population growth, particularly in the pre-industrial age. My argument is that there are many additional factors now. One key factor is women's equality and ability to choose career rather than family, availability of contraception, and the sheer cost of child rearing. Urbanisation, reducing male sperm counts and other social and environmental factors also play a role.

My argument about a reduction in inequality leading to increased sustainability was specifically in the context of the population carrying capacity of the planet. If rich countries continue to consume the vast majority of available wealth, that leaves much less for everyone else to share - resulting in a reduced overall carrying capacity. That in itself may reduce any further increase in population, but it also reduces the population the planet can sustain long term.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2020 at 11:15:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems to be an article about fertility, ignoring the likelihood of pandemic, war, or climate-induced starvation.

A cynical view might be that for the last 75 years or so, most of the global population has avoided widespread disease outbreaks because of the development of antibiotics, which now appears unsustainable. And that we have avoided widespread war because of a series of economic accidents related to the Cold War. And that we have avoided mass starvation because of the Green Revolution, also possibly not sustainable.

We are in a situation now where three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are in a race. (The fourth, Spiritual Death, has already won the first heat.) By which catastrophe is humanity going to fail?

Relatively minor changes in fertility rates aren't going to be the controlling factor.

by asdf on Tue Jul 21st, 2020 at 11:47:35 PM EST
Over the generational time-scales we are discussing minor changes in fertility rates can indeed have huge consequences in terms of outcomes. It all depends on whether the children per mother rate is above or below 2.1, and it is now below 2.1 in much of Europe (especially Eastern Europe), Asia, the Americas and significantly above 2.1 only in Africa. Add in the factors you identified above, and many demographers now argue that the global population will peak mid-century below 9 Billion and decline thereafter. Male sperm counts seem to be declining as well, although there is little consensus as to why.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2020 at 11:03:11 AM EST
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