The graying of America 8

Why are demographic statistics  left out of political calculation? We find them fascinating in themselves. (Fact: The ‘country’ that has the lowest fertility rate in the world also has the highest life expectancy in the world. It is  Macao, the peninsula city. Fertility rate: 0.9. Life expectancy: 84.3 years. That’s a very old population.)

If demographic trends were taken into account by American policy-makers, foreign policies would probably be very different.

For example – George Will writes:

Today, in a world bristling with new threats, the president suggests addressing an old one – Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It remains potentially dangerous, particularly if a portion of it falls into nonstate hands. But what is the future of the backward and backsliding kleptocratic thugocracy that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia?  Putin must be amazed and amused that America’s president wants to treat Russia as a great power. Obama should instead study pertinent demographic trends.

Russia, he goes on to explain, is rapidly becoming depopulated.  It certainly is. While a country needs a fertility rate of 2.1 minimum for stabilization, Russia’s is 1.4. Its life expectancy is a mere 65.87. For a male it is as low as 59.12, for a female 73.03. Compare that to the American rates: fertility, 2.1, life expectancy 78.06: for a male, 75.15, a female 80.97.

The Russians are an extreme example of a dying nation.  But every European country has a shrinking population.  The fertility rate of the European Union as a whole is 1.5.   (Mark Steyn discusses the implications of all this at length in his important book America Alone .)

Compared to European countries, ‘which face demographic catastrophe, America’s position seems relatively strong,’ writes David P Goldman at First Things.  Read the whole article here.

But, he goes on to say, ‘the declining demographics of the traditional American family’ is a serious threat to future prosperity.

In place of traditional two-parent families with children, America has seen enormous growth in one-parent families and childless families. The number of one-parent families with children has tripled. Dependent children formed half the U.S. population in 1960, and they add up to only 30 percent today. The dependent elderly doubled as a proportion of the population, from 15 percent in 1960 to 30 percent today. If capital markets derive from the cycle of human life, what happens if the cycle goes wrong? … What if there really is something wrong with our future—if the next generation fails to appear in sufficient numbers? The answer is that we get poorer. … Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial. This unwelcome and unprecedented change underlies the present global economic crisis. We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still—no matter what economic policies we put in place…

During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a mélange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children. The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses. It is no accident that the housing market—the economic sector most sensitive to demographics—was the epicenter of the economic crisis… [It is] due to the demographics of diminishing demand…  Our children are our wealth. Too few of them are seated around America’s common table, and it is their absence that makes us poor. Not only the absolute count of children, to be sure, but also the shrinking proportion of children raised with the moral material advantages of two-parent families diminishes our prospects… There are ways to ameliorate the financial crisis, but none of them will replace the lives that should have been part of America and now are missed.

This suggests that nothing economic policy can do will entirely reverse the great wave of wealth destruction… Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life, we cannot expect to return to the kind of wealth accumulation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s… Wealth depends ultimately on the natural order of human life. Failing to rear a new  generation in sufficient numbers to replace the present one violates that order, and it has consequences for wealth, among many other things.

Americans who rejected the mild yoke of family responsibility in pursuit of atavistic enjoyment will find at last that this is not to  be theirs, either…

Today, less than a third of American households constitute a two-parent nuclear family with children. Housing prices are collapsing in part because single-person households are replacing families with children… [By 2025] the demand of Americans will be urban apartments for empty nesters… We are going to be poorer for a generation and perhaps longer. We will drive smaller cars and live in smaller homes, vacation in cabins by the lake rather than at Disney World, and send our children to public universities rather than private liberal-arts colleges. The baby boomers on average will work five or ten years longer before retiring on less income than they had planned, and young people will work for less money at duller jobs than they had hoped…

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 19, 2009

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This post has 8 comments.

  • I am the “Bill” that posted a year ago. I had some time to think more about this. The real situation is that the middle class squeeze makes it more expensive to have traditional households. More recently, the recessions of the early 2000s and the current recession, which began in 2007 have made it tougher to have a stable income. The winners were single mobile people who rent and who can get a job quickly thousands of miles away from their old job. This event happened to me in December 2010. I changed jobs over a weekend.  Had I gotten married 11 years ago (before I went mobile), I would probably be financially devasted by divorce, I would be earning less than half of what I currently earn, and I would not be able to say that I can retire tomorrow if I want to (and I could, at nearly 52).  I did not like my work situation at the time I changed my career. I was overlooked three years in a row for promotion and I had to just go Galt. To those who say I should have sacrificed and took a chance on marriage, I say you are not being individualists. “Sacrifice” is not an individualistic concept. It is unAmerican. I know a lot of “conservatives” such as Bill Bennet promote “sacrifice.” But they are not individualists in the real spirit of what made America great. 

    • Jillian Becker

      Thank you for your comment, William M.

      You may find our post “Against God and Socialism” (April 29, 2011) interesting.   

  • The most selfish generation in American history is my generation–Boomers. One measure of this selfishness is the state of the family. Raising children is hard work. It gets in the way of one’s lifestyle. But without enough children, a society cannot sustain its own elderly. It would be dark irony if the Selfish Generation’s failure to have children ultimately led to death panel health care.

    •  Actually, raising families properly is a very selfish act. you create a human with YOUR features. you raise him in hopes to be like YOU. You see two kids struggling in a pond, one of them is YOUR kid, which one do you save. more importantly, WHY?

      Also, the bad connotations of selfishness is not an invention of individualists. The “it is a sin to be selfish” was invented by religionists and collectivists. Last time I checked, we are atheists and our type of conservatism is more individualistic than the mainstream Republican conservatism.

    • WLIL

      I think people in certain selfish third world culture, who raised children  to benefit themselves are not only are selfish but caused more overpopulation problem that their own culture had been known to be unable to support properly without foreign aid or aid from strangers or from relatives.
      Some  or many parents in other third world countries and even first world countries are born to be selfish. They ignored their children needs and forced their children  to indirectly  beg for help  from strangers or others, even though they can afford to improve their children lifes !  Most times, it is certain lazy parents from certain lazy third world culture is to be blamed. It is most times certain selfish (mixed or unmixed)  cultures that are to be blamed for the problems that their children may have to endure.   
      Anyway, it is pointless to have more kids in a selfish third world societies that pressured their youngs to migrate to the West.   
      Therefore those like us who do not have the opportunity to have any children is not selfish but most probably cannot afford to have any.
      It would be nice if we childless individuals, get some appreciation for helping those parents with their raising of their young kids.  


      • George

                   You said it WLIL !     When I think about how the bible-humpers are always preaching —  ” be fruitfull and multiply”   it’s no wonder we have such a massive population explosion.   The worst part is that many of these people who have these large families are poor and unable to care for them and we know the overall result from that .  But you can’t tell this to these brainwashed bible-bangers who don’t use common sense but only follow theological tradition.

  • Bill

    *Cut taxes on families. The personal exemption introduced with the Second World War's Victory Tax was $624, reflecting the cost of “food and a little more.” In today's dollars that would be about $7,600, while the current personal exemption stands at only $3,650. The personal exemption should be raised to $8,000 simply to restore the real value of the deduction, and the full personal exemption should apply to children.

    *Shift part of the burden of social insurance to the childless. For most taxpayers, social-insurance deductions are almost as great a burden as income tax. Families that bring up children contribute to the future tax base; families that do not get a free ride. The base rate for social security and Medicare deductions should rise, with a significant exemption for families with children, so that a disproportionate share of the burden falls on the childless.”

    Those two suggestions of that author are very scary to us single people. A proper conservative would stick to the Constitution. It's not constitutional for government to favor one group (married people with children) over another group (singles). I would say the author is an evangelical socialist.

  • roger in florida

    There is a huge change taking place in the economy and in our society, that the pundits either ignore or are not aware of. Put this into a wider context, the world demographics and the impact thereof on international politics, and you have a situation that requires unerstanding on a scale that seems to be completely beyond our current leaders. When you have the POTUS bowing to an such an appalling character as the King of Saudi Arabia, you know we are in it up to our eyebrows.