The graying of America 115

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

Tagged with , , , , ,

This post has 115 comments.