The world population is expected to reach 7 billion later this year.  While lots of experts disagree about whether we have surpassed the point of being able to sustain the ever growing population, there are others who are more concerned about population decrease. How can that be?  Check out the analysis by Harvard professor Robert Barro and others. He predicts a “grim future”  for much of continental Europe because …

…of its population decline.  According to Rory Fitzgerald, writer for, “a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman will keep a society stable.”  And..”low fertility rates of Korea (1.1), Singapore (1.2) Germany (1.3), Poland (1.3), Italy (1.4), Spain (1.4) and Russia (1.4), more or less dooms these countries to aging crises and population decline.”

Demographer Peter McDonald estimates that if Italy’s recent fertility levels remain as they are, barring mass immigration, it will lose 86 % of its population by the end of this century. Similarly, he estimates Spain’s population will drop by 85%, Germany 83% and Greece 74%.

Declining populations will affect these countries’ economy powers, and will lead to what demographer Dr. Wolfgang Lutz of the Vienna Institute of Demography calls a “low fertility trap” – “a sort of death spiral where a nation tips over a demographic cliff, never to recover.”  Fitzgerald notes that those who believe in this demographic peril say that “no society has ever recovered from a sustained birth rate of under 1.5 children per woman.”

Despite a potential demographic demise, there remains the upward trend of the numbers of people not having any children. For example, in Italy, the International Center for Family Studies found that 57.8 percent of childless Italian households said they had no children out of “personal choice.” People’s reasons include a “sense of uncertainty about the future and the difficulties involved in raising children.”

Some fear a cultural shift to more of an accepted attitude about childlessness and families with one or no children, “thereby institutionalising the trend of low birth rates.”  The shift is showing itself in Germany–30% young women say they don’t intend to have children at all.  And many German men–48% under 40, agree that you can have a happy life without children.

As far as cultural shift to more acceptance of having no children by choice in particular, I say bring it on. Inside the concerns about population demise lurks the pronatalist assumption that has to do with our responsibility to bring the next generation into the world–to continue the “species”  as it were, and in this case, from a nationalistic perspective.

While I understand a country being concerned about demographic changes to its population, it is not more important for people to reproduce “for” their country than for them to do what is best for them and their personal lives in that country.

What do you think? What are citizens’ “duties” to their country if seems to be on the road to “demographic collapse”?


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