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More of a senile whimper than a baby-boom bang

With the United Nations declaring that the world now hosts some 7 billion souls, the media, and folks around the water cooler alike, have been gnashing teeth and lamenting that we’re doomed to be over-crowded, hungry and generally miserable in the future. Joel Kotkin, a demographer and writer for Forbes (see his work here: http://www.newgeography.com) reminds us that there are viable opposing views to this projected dystopia. Kotkin and other demographers suggest the possibility that dropping birth rates in many developed countries could spread to the more fecund developing countries, leaving the world with a rapidly diminishing growth rate that leads eventually to population decline. Here is Kotkin writing in Forbes Magazine:

The childlessness phenomenon stems largely from such things as urbanization, high housing prices, intense competition over jobs and the rising prospects for women. The secularization of society—essentially embracing a self-oriented prospective—may also be a factor.

If this trend gains momentum, we may yet witness one of the greatest demographic revolutions in human history. As larger portions of the population eschew marriage and children, today’s projections of old age dependency ratios may end up being wildly understated. More important, the very things that have driven human society from primitive time—such as family and primary concern for children—will be shoved ever more to the sidelines. Our planet may be less crowded and frenetic, but, as in many of our child-free environments, a little bit sad and lot less vibrant.

Our future may well prove very different from the Malthusian dystopia widely promoted in the 1960s and still widely accepted throughout the media. With fewer children and workers, and more old folks, the “population bomb” end up being more of an implosion than an explosion.

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