NRL News

World Welcomes Seventh Billionth Baby

by | Nov 1, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

If you are old enough to have witnessed first-hand the “Population Bomb” hysteria of the 1960s, you will find a story in yesterday’s Washington Post filled with bitter irony.

“World Population not only grows, but grows old,” by Joel Achenbach, captures the results of a movement that was not adverse to the use of coercion (including forced abortion and involuntary sterilizations) to slow population growth. Says Matthew Connelly, a Columbia University professor of history and the author of Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, “There are many countries, more all the time, that are going to be looking at a population implosion, rather than a population explosion.”

Achenbach quotes Linda Waite, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago as saying, “The precipitous drop in fertility in many nations caught demographers by surprise.” What exactly did they miss? They just assumed that once women began having fewer than two children (technically, 2.1 children is the replacement figure) the reduction would bottom out.

“It’s sort of a head slap,” Waite said. “It wasn’t even talked about. It was more an unspoken assumption that fertility would fall to replacement and then stabilize.” Achenbach lists a large number of countries, many in Europe, which was way, way under replacement levels.

Thanks to better food and medical care, the lifespan has been extended. Put the two together? Achenbach writes,

“Fertility rates have plunged globally; simultaneously, life spans have increased. The result is a re-contoured age graph: The pyramid, once with a tiny number of old folks at the peak and a broad foundation of children, is inverting. In wealthy countries, the graph already has a pronounced middle-age spread”.

He offers a slew of reasons for the global transition to lower fertility—which begins with a vastly different attitude toward children—and then throws in at the end: “In the 1970s, China abruptly reversed course and instituted a coercive one-child policy that sent the nation’s birthrate into free fall.”

But as we look ahead, Achenbach doesn’t talk about the real ticking time bomb: because of the widespread availability of sonograms, hundreds of millions of unborn females have already been aborted. This drastically altered sex-ratio can only result in huge societal dislocations, as countries such as China are already facing. And, alas, there is no end in sight to this ultimate form of discrimination based on sex.

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