Mohamed: The Line’s Naughty List: The demographic crisis isn’t going away

Another article on the limits of immigration to address weak economic growth although ignoring the productivity issue. But just like increasing immigration is unlikely to significantly counter demographic trends of an aging population, a focus on increasing fertility is, given experience in other jurisdictions, unlikely to move the needle significantly.

Governments and policy makers need to consider alternative scenarios of how to manage an aging population rather than just focussing on semi-effective measures to slow down the trend:

The nearly concluded year of 2022 may well be remembered as the year generational politics finally arrived in Canada, even if nobody wants to talk about the root of our demographic dilemma. 

Saddled for over a decade with stagnating wages, escalating day-to-day living costs, and one of the world’s least-affordable housing markets, Canadians under the age of 40 finally said “enough” in 2022; making generational inequality, for the first time, a major nationwide political issue

Some of Canada’s pissed off young adults have found their messiah in 43-year-old Conservative party leader Pierre Poilievre, a rather cantankerous fellow himself. Poilievre has masterfully used Canada’s housing affordability crisis to tap into a groundswell of support among younger Canadians — recent polling show Poilievre’s Conservative party holding a double-digit leadamong voters between the ages of 18 and 34.

But even if their voices are finally being heard, young Canadians have precious little to look forward to as they start their working lives in earnest. The OECD projects that Canada’s economic growth will be dead last among advanced countries over the next decade. This means that young Canadians entering the workforce in the 2020s can expect the same grim job prospects, stagnant real incomes, and diminished purchasing power as their older cohorts who graduated into the Great Recession (insert James Franco “First time?” meme here). 

Barring a miraculous change of course, Millennial and Gen-Z Canadians will not only be worse off than their parents but will also see their standards of living deteriorate relative to people the same age in other countries. 

Yet for all his bluster and this real opportunity for a political breakthrough, Mr. Poilievre has offered no genuine solutions to this generational slide. 

So what can be done to reverse Canada’s great inter-generational stagnation? For one thing, we can attack the demographic underpinnings of our dismal growth projections.

The biggest challenge will be to mitigate the effect of our aging population on our labour markets. A record 307,000 Canadians retired last year and a further one-in-five workers are nearing retirement age. Retirements are pushing job vacancies to record levels and leaving behind a shrinking workforce to pick up the slack. By 2027, there will be just three working-agedCanadians for each senior citizen.

Policymakers in Ottawa are acutely aware of this problem and are banking on an already overburdened immigration system to provide an easy fix to our labour market woes. Last month, the Trudeau government unveiled an ambitious plan to bring in 500,000 immigrants per year by 2025 (an increase of nearly two-thirds from average annual admissions between 2015 and 2019). Since this announcement, even progressive outlets have voiced concerns about our capacity to absorb such a sharp influx of new Canadians.

As Andrew Potter recently wrote in The Line, the new immigration target places Canada’s fragile pro-immigration consensus at risk. New Canadians may well bear the brunt of intensifying populist anger if they’re seen as contributing to the country’s health-care and housing-affordability crises. (Chinese immigrants, for example, have already incurred a racial backlash for their alleged role in driving up housing prices in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.)

But even under ideal conditions, immigration would not be a silver-bullet solution to the labour-market challenges created by an aging native-born population. The average Canadian immigrant arrives in their late 20s and may need years to become licensed to work in their chosen occupation. Further, working immigrants often bring both non-working spouses and elderly relatives with them. These are just a few of the frictions that make the economic benefit of large-scale immigration subject to the law of diminishing returns

We also need to weigh the potential economic gains of increased immigration against the challenge some new immigrant communities may pose to our political climate by “importing” combustible ethno-cultural grievances. As I wrote in The Line earlier this year, diaspora politics is becoming increasingly visible in Canada and played a central role in Patrick Brown’s Conservative party leadership campaign.

Large-scale immigration has been a massive economic and cultural boon to Canada over the past half-century but it’s becoming increasingly evident that we’re fast approaching an inflection point. Future increases to immigration are likely to generate diminishing economic returns and escalating political costs. 

This leaves us with a rather simple equation. To reverse our forecasted economic slide, we must increase the supply of young Canadians relative to the number of older ones. To do this, we must find ways to encourage reproductive-aged Canadians to have more children. The arithmetic could not be more straightforward.

Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of what’s happening. As I wrote back in August, Canada’s birth rate, which has long been the lowest in the Anglosphere, hit a record-low of 1.4 births-per-woman (bpw) during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020. While it bounced back slightly last year, it still falls well below the OECD average of 1.7 bpw

A quick glance at the average price of a single-family home or daycare space in any major Canadian city should explain why cash-strapped millennials aren’t rushing to bring more children into the world. Indeed, beyond tackling our broader affordability crisis, all orders of government could be doing more to make starting families more affordable for young Canadians — Canada’s level of public spending on family benefits falls well below the average among OECD countries

The Trudeau government’s recently concluded bilateral agreements mark the third attempt at Canada-wide child care. Yet fewer than nine months after the last deal was inked, political will already appears to be faltering.

Part of the problem is that the bilateral agreements were pitched as a mechanism to guide Canada out of the “she-cession” created during the first year of the pandemic. This rationale rings hollow now that women’s labour force participation has bounced back to (and exceeded) pre-pandemic levels. 

Tying new family policies to Canada’s longstanding fertility crisis and, by extension, our future economic vitality, could give these initiatives more staying power.

One thing’s clear: the “f-word” (fertility) can no longer be a forbidden term in Canada’s political lexicon. Until we get serious about that, our demographic and political challenges will only get worse. 

Rahim Mohamed is a master’s student at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. His writing has appeared in The Hub, the National Post, and CBC News Calgary.

Source: The Line’s Naughty List: The demographic crisis isn’t going away 

Le Devoir editorial: Impasse fédérale en immigration

Of interest, Le Devoir’s take on the positions of Quebec parties on immigration, ending with the understandable (and traditional) concern that Quebec will have less demographic weight in Canada given its more restrictive policies.

While the Liberal government has embraced increasing immigration, rightly or wrongly there is a general consensus among the major federal parties and provinces other than Quebec in favour of increased immigration:

Pour la plus grande partie de la campagne électorale, le débat sur l’immigration s’est limité à une affaire de seuils dans l’accueil des nouveaux arrivants. Les propos malencontreux du chef caquiste, François Legault, qui a présenté l’immigration comme une menace à la paix sociale, avant de s’excuser, ont inutilement teinté les discussions.

Pour le premier ministre sortant, il aurait été si simple de s’élever au-dessus de la mêlée et de rappeler, sans sacrifier la protection de la nation québécoise, que le Québec est une terre d’accueil riche de sa diversité et de ses métissages culturels. Ses maladresses font en sorte que les positions raisonnées et les réalisations de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) en matière d’immigration attirent la suspicion.

La CAQ propose entre autres d’accueillir 50 000 immigrants par année et d’exiger qu’une plus grande proportion de ceux-ci parlent déjà le français à leur arrivée. M. Legault en fait une condition essentielle pour assurer l’avenir du français au Québec, car il y a des limites à la vélocité de l’intégration des immigrants au tissu et à la culture francophones. Son gouvernement a doublé les budgets alloués à la francisation pour les faire passer à 168 millions de dollars par année, une excellente initiative qui souffre des inégalités dans la qualité et l’accessibilité de la formation. L’État québécois ne sait même pas combien d’entreprises participent aux cours de francisation. Les incohérences sont nombreuses, comme en témoigne le cas récent du programme de francisation exemplaire de Peerless, dont le financement a été retiré, puis reconduit à la suite d’un reportage du Devoir.

Il est à souhaiter que la création de Francisation Québec puisse servir à améliorer le bilan. Le Québec peut et doit faire mieux en matière d’intégration et de francisation si nous souhaitons aborder le débat sur l’immigration au-delà de l’insécurité linguistique.

Le Parti québécois (PQ) envisage aussi les seuils d’immigration à l’enseigne de la pérennité du fait français. Son chef, Paul St-Pierre Plamondonramène la cible à 35 000 immigrants par année et exige une connaissance du français de tous les immigrants économiques avant leur arrivée. Il est le seul, avec François Legault, à lier immigration et pérennité du français sans passer par le raccourci illusoire de la pénurie de main-d’oeuvre.

Le Parti conservateur du Québec (PCQ) rejoint le PQ sur les affres du multiculturalisme, mais il le dépasse par la droite en proposant de sélectionner les immigrants en fonction d’une « compatibilité civilisationnelle » (adhésion aux valeurs occidentales et capacité d’intégration). Cette nostalgie pour une cohésion sociale fantasmée est enrobée dans un épouvantable déterminisme qui fait fi des capacités d’intégration et d’adaptation de l’être humain.

À l’autre extrémité du spectre, Québec solidaire(QS) fixe la cible maximale à 80 000 immigrants par année, sans trop s’inquiéter des conséquences. Le co-porte-parole de QS, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a l’heureuse idée de proposer une bonification additionnelle des budgets de francisation (à 230 millions par année) et de vouloir faire découvrir la culture québécoise aux nouveaux arrivants par un « billet culture » de 200 $ par année. La mesure peut sembler anodine, mais elle a le mérite d’offrir une main tendue.

Le Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ) mise sur son habituelle approche débonnaire en matière d’immigration, dans le prolongement de son positionnement historique en faveur des droits des minorités. Dominique Anglade ne souffre d’aucune insécurité linguistique. Son invitation à « arrêter de diviser » et de présenter l’immigration comme « un problème et une menace » est apaisante en comparaison des amalgames douteux de M. Legault. Elle fait toutefois l’impasse sur les solutions nécessaires pour faciliter le transfert linguistique des nouveaux arrivants vers le français. Elle évoque sans trop de conviction la francisation et la régionalisation de l’immigration, qu’elle présente comme une solution à la pénurie de main-d’oeuvre (tout comme Québec solidaire). Cette relation de causalité entre immigration et emploi ne fait pas l’unanimité.

À force de traiter de la question de l’immigration à partir des capacités d’accueil du Québec, nous avons tendance à oublier que le réel problème se situe à Ottawa, où loge un premier ministre postnational qui embrasse un projet de croissance démographique basé sur l’apport migratoire. Les libéraux de Justin Trudeau ne respectent pas l’entente Canada-Québec sur l’immigration. Le processus migratoire fédéral désavantage les francophones, notamment chez les étudiants étrangers. Toutes les actions du fédéral en matière d’immigration nous portent à conclure qu’il ne se soucie pas du déclin du poids démographique des francophones au Québec et au Canada.

Le rapatriement des pleins pouvoirs en immigration est la mesure qui compte le plus, mais aucune des formations ne sera en position de réussir ce tour de force. Tel est notre véritable drame en matière d’immigration.

Source: Impasse fédérale en immigration


U.S. Population Growth Has Nearly Flatlined. Is That So Bad?

Well worth reading, a useful and needed counterpoint to all the fretting about demographic decline and an aging population. Canadian policy makers and others need to think more about how to manage an aging population that mainly advocating for increased immigration to slow the trend:

A Demographic Crisis.” “A Blinking Light Ahead.” “The Death of Hope.” Those are some of the dire headlines that have been written in recent years about the sluggish pace of U.S. population growth, which in 2021 fell to its lowest rate ever — just 0.1 percent.

While the pandemic played a major role in driving last year’s decline, the country’s population growth has been slowing for much of the last decade, depressed by declining fertility rates, a surge in “deaths of despair” and lower levels of legal immigration.

But is a population slowdown as much of a crisis as some have made it out to be, or could it actually bring welcome changes? Here’s a look at a longstanding demographic debate.

For a population to replenish itself in the absence of immigration, demographers estimate that there must be, on average, about 2.1 births per woman. In the United States, the fertility rate has been consistently below that level since 2007. And it’s not alone: While some countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, are still growing rapidly, the global average fertility rate has been falling for decades, and even China’s population, the world’s largest, may very soon reach its peak.

As a result, the United Nations now predicts that the human population will start declining by the end of the century. (Other demographers have projected an even earlier peak.) Some countries — notably Japan and South Korea, whose fertility rates are among the lowest in the world — are already shrinking.

Why are fertility rates falling? The trend is typically attributed to a combination of economic prosperity, which leads to lower infant mortality, and greater gender equality. “As women have gained more access to education and contraception, and as the anxieties associated with having children continue to intensify, more parents are delaying pregnancy and fewer babies are being born,” Damien Cave, Emma Bubola and Choe Sang-Hun reported for The Times last year. Because many of those babies then go on to have smaller families than their parents did, they added, “the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.”

It’s a stark reversal of the demographic trends of the 1900s, during which the coincidence of high fertility rates and lengthening life spans caused the global population to nearly quadruple in size, from 1.6 billion to six billion. And for much of the 20th century, it was the specter of overpopulation, not stagnation or decline, that animated dystopian visions of the future.

Which raises a question: How much stock should we really be placing in population forecasts? As David Adam explained in Nature last year, medium-term projections are usually quite accurate, as most people who will be alive in 20 to 30 years have already been born.

But over the longer term, projections diverge and become less reliable, in part because technological and environmental shocks that could cause demographic swings are impossible to predict, as Vox’s Kelsey Piper has written: “If, for example, climate change drives currently developed countries back into poverty and drives their birthrates back up, the estimates are poorly equipped to account for that. On the other hand, if more reliable contraceptives are developed and virtually end unintended pregnancies the world over, birthrates could fall much faster than predicted.”

For many futurists, the primary challenge posed by declining population growth is economic: When people live longer and have fewer babies, the population ages, leaving fewer working-age adults to support a country’s swelling number of retirees.

“Older people are more prone to illness, and many rely on publicly funded pensions and eventually require caregiving,” Stephanie H. Murray wrote in The Atlantic in February. “Many countries, including the U.S., are already struggling to meet the needs of the rapidly growing elderly population.”

This can create a kind of national languishing, as the Times columnist Ross Douthat argued last year: “If you assume that dynamism and growth are desirable things (not everyone does, but that’s a separate debate), then for the developed world to be something more than just a rich museum, at some point it needs to stop growing ever-older, with a dwindling younger generation struggling in the shadow of societal old age.”

Aging may take a particularly heavy toll on middle-income countries. Historically, as industrialized countries have become richer, their labor force grew more rapidly than their nonworking population, providing a “demographic dividend.” But in some developing countries, including Brazil and China, fertility rates have fallen to around or below replacement level much more quickly than they did for their higher-income counterparts, and their populations now face the risk of getting old before getting rich.

A population slowdown can be a symptom of other national problems. For example, as Derek Thompson has noted in The Atlantic, while declining fertility is often a sign of female empowerment, it can also be a sign of its opposite, as suggested by the growing gap between how many children Americans say they want and how many they have. “There are many potential explanations for this gap,” Thompson wrote, “but one is that the U.S. has made caring for multiple children too expensive and cumbersome for even wealthy parents, due to a shortage of housing, the rising cost of child care, and the paucity of long-term federal support for children.”

To see how population stagnation or even decline need not spell disaster, you can look at countries where it’s already occurring, as Daniel Moss, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asian economies, did last year. Take Japan: “Despite the caricature of the country as an economic failure in the grip of terminal decline, life goes on,” he wrote. “True, growth in overall G.D.P. has been fairly anemic in past few decades, but G.D.P. per capita has held up well.” What’s more, he added, Japan’s unemployment rate is very low and has remained so throughout the pandemic (it was 2.6 percent in July).

Japan’s example lends some credence to the view of Kim Stanley Robinson, a widely acclaimed science-fiction writer, who believes that an aging population with a smaller work force could actually lead to economic prosperity. “It sounds like full employment to me,” he argued in The Washington Post last year. “The precarity and immiseration of the unemployed would disappear as everyone had access to work that gave them an income and dignity and meaning.”

The challenges of an aging population could push countries to pursue policies that improve quality of life:

  • One 2019 analysis estimated that if the European Union eliminated inequities in educational attainment and in women’s and immigrants’ labor force participation, it could cancel out more than half of the labor force decline it might otherwise experience by 2060.
  • Another way governments have responded to labor shortages caused by population aging is by investing more in the automation of work, an M.I.T. study found last year. As The Times’s John Yoon reported last month, “The prospect of a shrinking work force has put South Korea at the forefront of developing robots and artificial intelligence for the workplace.”
  • In the view of the Times columnist Paul Krugman, the biggest economic problem of an aging population isn’t increased strain on the social safety net, but rather weak investment from businesses anticipating reduced consumer demand. If that scenario comes to pass, though, “why not put the money to work for the public good?” he wrote last year. “Why not borrow cheaply and use the funds to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, invest in the health and education of our children, and more? This would be good for our society, good for the future, and would also provide a cushion against future recessions.”

Fertility rate declines may also be making climate change easier to combat, albeit not in the way many think: As Sarah Kaplan of The Washington Post has explained, fossil fuel consumption is driven primarily by increases in affluence, not the number of people on the planet per se. So while population growth in poor countries hasn’t led to large increases in planet-warming emissions, a sudden baby boom in high-income countries like the United States almost certainly would.

For some demographers, the prospect of population stagnation or decline isn’t any more a cause for alarm than population growth was; it’s simply a change that governments will need to manage. “Rather than panicking or trying to forestall this for ourselves,” Leslie Root, a demographer and a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote in The Washington Post last year, “we should be thinking about what that transition will mean globally — both for rich countries and for poor ones that will be far more burdened by aging populations than we will.”

Source: U.S. Population Growth Has Nearly Flatlined. Is That So Bad?

Why US Population Growth Is in the Danger Zone

Always struck by the lack of thinking and analysis regarding options and approaches on living with a declining population. A larger population is not good for the planet from any number of perspectives, and even advantages at the country level are mixed at best.

Just as we have to do with climate change, we need to consider what a mix of curbing growth and mitigating the impacts would look like, how to manage transitions and address externalities:

The U.S. population grew at the slowest pace in history in 2021, according to census data released last week. That news sounds extreme, but it’s on trend. First came 2020, which saw one of the lowest U.S. population-growth rates ever. And now we have 2021 officially setting the all-time record.

U.S. growth didn’t slowly fade away: It slipped, and slipped, and then fell off a cliff. The 2010s were already demographically stagnant; every year from 2011 to 2017, the U.S. grew by only 2 million people. In 2020, the U.S. grew by just 1.1 million. Last year, we added only 393,000 people.

What’s going on?

A country grows or shrinks in three ways: immigration, deaths, and births. America’s declining fertility rate often gets the headline treatment. Journalists are obsessed with the question of why Americans aren’t having more babies. And because I’m a journalist, be assured that we’ll do the baby thing in a moment. But it’s the other two factors—death and immigration—that are overwhelmingly responsible for the collapse in U.S. population growth.

First, we have to talk about COVID. The pandemic has killed nearly 1 million Americans in the past two years, according to the CDC. Tragically and remarkably, a majority of those deaths happened after we announced the authorization of COVID vaccines, which means that they were particularly concentrated in 2021. Last year, deaths exceeded births in a record-high number of U.S. counties. Never before in American history have so many different parts of the country shrunk because of “natural decrease,” which is the difference between deaths and births.

Excess deaths accounted for 50 percent of the difference in population growth from 2019 to 2021. That’s a clear sign of the devastating effect of the pandemic. But this statistic also tells us that even if we could had brought excess COVID deaths down to zero, U.S. population growth would still have crashed to something near an all-time low. To understand why, we have to talk about the second variable in the population equation: immigration.

As recently as 2016, net immigration to the United States exceeded 1 million people. But immigration has since collapsed by about 75 percent, falling below 250,000 last year. Immigration fell by more than half in almost all of the hot spots for foreign-born migrants, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco

Some of this reduction is a result of economic factors; immigration from Latin America has slowed as those economies have grown. Some of it is epidemiological; immigration declined around the world because of COVID lockdowns. But much of this is an American policy choice. The Trump administration worked to constrain not only illegal immigration but also legal immigration. And the Biden administration has not prioritized the revitalization of pro-immigration policy, perhaps due to fears of a xenophobic backlash from the center and right.

America’s bias against immigration is self-defeating in almost every dimension. “Immigration is a geopolitical cheat code for the U.S.,” says Caleb Watney, a co-founder of the Institute for Progress, a new think tank in Washington, D.C. “Want to supercharge science? Immigrants bring breakthroughs, patents, and Nobel Prizes in droves. Want to stay ahead of China? Immigrants drive progress in semiconductors, AI, and quantum computing. Want to make America more dynamic? Immigrants launch nearly 50 percent of U.S. billion-dollar start-ups. The rest of the world is begging international talent to come to their shores while we are slamming the door in their face.”

Finally, yes, Americans are having fewer babies—like basically every other rich country in the world. Since 2011, annual births have declined by 400,000. Two years ago, I wrote that “the future of the city is childless,” and the pandemic seems to have accelerated that future. Just look at Los Angeles: L.A. County recorded 153,000 live births in 2001 but fewer than 100,000 in 2021. At this rate, sometime around 2030, L.A. births will have declined by 50 percent in the 21st century.

Declining births get a lot of media coverage, with mandatory references to Children of Men, followed by mandatory references to Matrix-style birthing pods, followed by inevitable fights over whether it’s creepy for dudes like me to talk academically about raising a nation’s collective fertility. My personal opinion is that wanting and having children is a personal matter for families, even as the spillover effects of declining fertility make it a very public issue for the overall economy.

The fact that declining fertility is a global trend suggests that it’s not something we can easily reversed by mimicking another country’s politics or culture. Around the world, rising women’s education and employment seem to correlate with swiftly declining birth rates. In just about every possible way you could imagine, this is a good thing: It strongly suggests that economic and social progress give women more power over their bodies and their lives.

But I should stress that declining fertility isn’t always a sign of female empowerment, as indicated by the large and growing gap between the number of children Americans say they want and the number of children they have. There are many potential explanations for this gap, but one is that the U.S. has made caring for multiple children too expensive and cumbersome for even wealthy parents, due to a shortage of housing, the rising cost of child care, and the paucity of long-term federal support for children.

The implications of permanently slumped population growth are wide-ranging. Shrinking populations produce stagnant economies. Stagnant economies create wonky cultural knock-on effects, like a zero-sum mentality that ironically makes it harder to pursue pro-growth policies. (For example, people in slow-growth regions might be fearful of immigrants because they seem to represent a threat to scarce business opportunities, even though immigration represents these places’ best chance to grow their population and economy.) The sector-by-sector implications of declining population would also get very wonky very fast. Higher education is already fighting for its life in the age of remote school and rising tuition costs. Imagine what happens if, following the historically large Millennial cohort, every subsequent U.S. generation gets smaller and smaller until the end of time, slowly starving many colleges of the revenue they’ve come to expect.

Even if you’re of the dubious opinion that the U.S. would be better off with a smaller population, American demographic policy is bad for Americans who are alive right now. We are a nation where families have fewer kids than they want; where Americans die of violence, drugs, accidents, and illness at higher rates than similarly rich countries; and where geniuses who want to found new job-creating companies are forced to do so in other countries, which get all the benefits of higher productivity, higher tax revenue, and better jobs.

Simply put, the U.S. has too few births, too many deaths, and not enough immigrants. Whether by accident, design, or a total misunderstanding of basic economics, America has steered itself into the demographic danger zone

Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the Work in Progress newsletter. He is also the author of Hit Makers and the host of the podcast Plain English.

Source: Why US Population Growth Is in the Danger Zone

Falling birth rates are not an existential crisis for Central and Eastern Europe, but an opportunity

Of note:

A growing number of countries – including two in Central and Eastern Europe – are adopting coercive pronatal policies in a bid to make women have more children, a new report has found.

The report, Welcome to Gilead, raises serious concerns about the abuse of reproductive rights by nationalistic governments, echoing the pronatal dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The report, produced by UK charity Population Matters, details how right-wing, populist and/or nationalist administrations are stigmatising women who choose to have smaller families as unpatriotic and describes how policies intended to limit women’s reproductive choices are linked to population goals.

“Coercive pronatalism is not simply a manifestation of patriarchy or misogyny but can be a product of political and economic forces entirely indifferent to women, for whom they exist simply as productive or non-productive wombs,” says Population Matters Director Robin Maynard.

“These regimes are instrumentalising women’s bodies to serve nationalistic, economic and patriarchal interests. Violating sexual and reproductive health and rights is never justified. It is imperative we all defend them, wherever they are threatened, and for whatever reason.”

In many countries, leaders fear the impact on their economic and political goals of women choosing to have fewer children.

As a result, the percentage of countries with pronatal policies grew from 10 per cent in 1976 to 28 per cent in 2015, according to the UN’s most recent data.

Not all such policies abuse reproductive rights, but increasing numbers are doing so.

The report examines examples of such restrictions in China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey, as well as the emerging Europe states of Hungary and Poland.

It identifies how politicians in the US and Germany are starting to promote the same agenda and policies.

It details in particular how pronatalism is often linked to a restrictive, patriarchal “pro-family” agenda and the promotion of ethnic nationalism, based frequently on religious orthodoxy and hostility to multiculturalism and immigration.

These motivations include subscription at the highest political level to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that Christian and European culture and civilisation will be extinguished by immigration from Muslim countries and high birth rates among immigrants.

Population Matters Policy Adviser Monica Scigliano, who wrote the report, says: “When people think of coercive population policy, their minds often go to examples like China and India, in which leaders wanted to limit population growth by forcing women to have fewer children.

“Now, however, with birth rates declining and in some cases emigration reversing population trends, that has changed.

“As people continue to choose smaller families, more governments across the world are resorting to coercive tactics, depriving people of their reproductive rights in order to increase their populations.

“In particular, nationalistic agendas can lead to a toxic brand of pronatalism that represents an almost inevitable threat to sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Hungary and Poland

In Hungary, the right-wing populist government of Viktor Orbán is now inching towards a total abortion ban. Orbán states, “we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender”.

Earlier this year, former US Vice President Mike Pence told a summit in the Hungarian capital Budapest that “plummeting birth rates” represent “a crisis that strikes at the very heart of civilisation”, adding that he hoped the US Supreme Court would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.

In Poland meanwhile, the ruling populist and pronatalist Law and Justice party recently increased abortion restrictions, banning abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormalities, which had been the reason for 98 per cent of all abortions in the country. Its law has recently claimed its first victim, a pregnant woman named Izabela who died after being denied an emergency operation because doctors insisted on waiting until they could no longer detect her baby’s heartbeat.

Polish reproductive rights campaigner Antonina Lewandowska, who wrote the foreword to the report, says:

“The Polish pronatalist movement drove doctors into such a state of fear that they would rather let Izabela go into septic shock than terminate the pregnancy earlier and save her life. They are terrified of prosecution and stigma, as the pro-natalist/anti-choice movements would probably eat them alive.

“On the other hand, there is a group of medical professionals that are rather comfortable with the current situation, as it lets them argue that medical negligence happens due to that ‘freezing effect’ of an abhorrent law rather then their own incompetence, mistake or deliberate choice to not provide their patients with necessary medical care – an abortion – due to their personal beliefs.

“In both cases, it is clear – aggressive, fundamentalist pronatalism paved the way for violating human rights in Poland.”

The economic value of older people

Central and Eastern Europe’s demographic decline has until now been presented as an existential problem. But have we been looking at the issue from the wrong perspective?

Even relatively poor countries such as Romania and Bulgaria are currently placing more demands on the renewable resources of their land than it can provide, and lower populations reduce that demand, as well as relieving pressure on biodiversity.

“Romania is one of Europe’s more biodiverse countries, for instance, with great forest cover and wetlands in the Danube Delta – both of value to the world, not just Romania,” Alistair Currie, head of campaigns and communications at Population Matters tells Emerging Europe.

“As it becomes more affluent, it has an opportunity to manage that land and natural environment more sustainably. Agriculture is the primary driver of habitat loss, and where countries aren’t scrambling to feed their populations through intensive agriculture and monocultures, that can give nature a break.”

Fears of labour shortages are often exaggerated because of continued population growth and automation, but Currie suggests that any shortages which do arise can be addressed through measures such as increasing labour force participation, judicious immigration policies, further automation and increasing retirement age.

“Fiscal challenges presented by ageing populations can be solved by pension reform, increasing the productivity of older workers, later retirement, investment in preventative health to reduce associated health care costs, and, where appropriate, equitable increases in tax,” he says.

“One thing that really came out strongly in our research is the economic value of older people. That means things like potentially increasing retirement age – low across much of Central and Eastern Europe. To do that, you do need healthy populations, however, which requires investment in preventative health care.

“Pronatal policies, meanwhile, are not productive. They’re often costly, in the short term they increase the number of dependent children, and in the longer term, they drive up consumption and resource use.”

Source: Falling birth rates are not an existential crisis for Central and Eastern Europe, but an opportunity

Immigration Can Offset US Population Decline | Cato at Liberty Blog

Cato Institute’s reply to the CIS post highlighting the limits of immigration in addressing an aging population ( Immigration and the Aging Society ). Not convinced. And like all immigration debates, the question is one of balance and understanding the limits of immigration in addressing ongoing policy and demographic issues:

The U.S. population is growing slowly and the average age of Americans is increasing as a result. Although the United States is not as old as other countries and likely to age better, the future looks demographically grim. Some social scientists and commentators think that boosting immigration can help delay or reverse those trends. Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, makes a series of silly argumentsagainst the notion that immigration can slow the aging of the U.S. population. Camarota’s points below are in quotes and my responses follow.

In reality, a significant body of research shows that the impact of immigration on population aging is small. While immigration can certainly make our population larger, it does not make us dramatically younger.

Camarota might be correct that the current and historically low rate of immigration to the United States doesn’t much lower the average age of the population, but that does not mean that immigration could not lower the average age if it were expanded. He merely shows that current U.S. immigration policy, which is very restrictive and much closer to his ideal level than mine, cannot much affect the average age. We shouldn’t expect a restrictive immigration system that allows in, at least prior to the immigration restrictions adopted by President Trump and partly maintained by President Biden (so far), a number of immigrants roughly equal to 0.3 percent of the population annually to have a big effect on the average age of the population. In 2018, 32 OECD countries had higher immigration flows as a percent of their populations and only five had lower flows, relative to the United States. Camarota’s point does not rebut the argument that expanded immigration would lower the average age and expand U.S. population.

But demographers have known for a long time that, absent truly gargantuan and ever‐​increasing rates of immigration, it isn’t actually possible for immigrants to undo or dramatically slow the overall aging of society. As Oxford demographer David Coleman observes, ‘it is already well known that [immigration] can only prevent population ageing at unprecedented, unsustainable and increasing levels of inflow.’

Do demographers know that? I looked up the source of the quote by David Coleman, former British MP and member of the Galton Institute. Camarota clipped a portion of a longer quote that makes a slightly different point. Coleman’s full quote is: “Although immigration can prevent population decline, it is already well known that it can only prevent population ageing at unprecedented, unsustainable and increasing levels of inflow, which would generate rapid population growth and eventually displace the original population from its majority position [Camarota’s quote italicized].”

Coleman agrees that immigration can prevent population decline. He identifies two problems with more immigration: It would “generate rapid population growth and eventually displace the original population from its majority position.” Rapid population growth is one of the many goals of those of us who favor liberalized immigration, so I have no argument with Coleman there. We simply disagree as I believe that population growth is positive and he thinks it’s negative. When it comes to “displace the original population from its majority position,” Coleman means that immigrants and their descendants would eventually become the majority of the population in the United Kingdom at a high level of immigration.

There’s no good reason for Camarota to find that shocking as it has happened at least once in U.S. history. As sociologist Charles Hirschman pointed out, the population of the United States today would only be about 100 million if immigration had stopped in 1800. Since the current population is about 330 million, that means most Americans are immigrants or the descendants of post‐​1800 immigrants. That doesn’t mean that boosted immigration would be “unprecedented” or “unsustainable.” It sounds like a return to immigration normality for Americans.

There are four broad reasons why the demography doesn’t support the political credo. First, not all immigrants arrive young — in fact, a growing share are arriving at or near retirement age. Second, immigrants age just like everyone else, adding to the elderly population over time. Third, immigrant fertility rates tend to converge with those of the native born. Fourth, to the extent that immigrants do have higher fertility rates than the native born, their children add to the dependent population — those too young or old to work.

Camarota’s first point is a curious criticism of the current restrictive immigration system. If this is his concern, why not just increase legal immigration opportunities for younger immigrants? Camarota’s second point somewhat answers that criticism – because “immigrants age just like everyone else, adding to the elderly population over time.” After all, newborn babies age too and will one day retire, which is a particularly poor argument against having children or increasing immigration.

Camarota’s third point is that immigrants assimilate. While a surprising admission from Camarota given his research, immigrants and their children still increase the population, and it takes time for immigrant fertility to approach that of natives – which he admits in his next point. Camarota’s fourth point is that immigrants have higher fertility rates that produce children who are also dependents.

To sum up, Camarota thinks that our current immigration system doesn’t help reduce the ratio of dependents to workers, immigrants age like everybody else, immigrant fertility shrinks too rapidly, and immigrant fertility doesn’t shrink fast enough.

The Census Bureau also estimates that, in 2060, 59% of the population will be of working age. Again, this is based on the assumption that net migration will amount to an average of 1.1 million each year. Under a zero‐​immigration scenario, just under 57% of the population would be of working age. In other words, while immigration is projected to add 75 million people to the American population by 2060, it will only increase the working‐​age share of the population by about two percentage points. Even if annual net immigration were expanded by 50% above what the Census Bureau projects, so that it averaged about 1.65 million a year, it would still only increase the working‐​age share of the population by three percentage points.

In other words, Camarota writes that the U.S. can increase immigration by 50 percent and have a working‐​age share of the population in 2060 similar to what it would otherwise be in 2027 or, on the extreme other side, 2060 America will look like Japan will in 2032. The percentage point spread is small, but the social, economic, and fiscal impacts are larger than they appear. Japan’s looming population collapse is terrifying and a few percentage points difference caused by expanded legal immigration can delay it for decades or longer. Even better, expanding legal immigration is a lot cheaper than birth subsidies.

You can read the rest of Camarota’s piece as it merely expands upon his points, offers some politically correct suggestions for reforming entitlement programs, and adds more figures. Nowhere does Camarota contest the obvious counterargument that immigration’s currently small effects on America’s age distribution result from very restrictive immigration policies.

The U.S. fiscal imbalance is a serious problem created by a poorly designed entitlement system. Declining U.S. fertility exacerbated the problem of the fiscal imbalance in a way that a well‐​designed system would not face. In addition to that, a growing population is correlated with increasing prosperity over the long term. More people mean more ideas, workers, consumers, investors, as well as potential friends, neighbors, and family members.

The worldwide and American increase in economic output from expanded legal immigration would be large and much of it could be captured to resolve the fiscal imbalance – at least for a few more generations. According to some estimates, massively expanded immigration would place the United States in an unassailable economic position. Allowing Americans and immigrants to interact as they see fit would also be a more ethical policy. In short, there are many reasons to support expanding legal immigration, and reversing expected US population decline is one of them, despite what Neo‐​Malthusians say.

Source: Immigration Can Offset US Population Decline | Cato at Liberty Blog

Immigration and the Aging Society

The same characteristics apply to Canada in terms of the limited impact of immigration on addressing an aging demographic. However, given Canada’s prioritizing skilled immigration, the fiscal drain arguments don’t apply (previous studies by Grubel that argued thus were flawed):

The idea that immigration is the solution to the aging of American society has become an article of faith among those arguing for ever-higher levels of new arrivals. They assert that, in societies such as the United States, where fertility rates are low relative to historic patterns, the native population will not supply enough workers to maintain a robust economy and pay for government services, particularly retirement programs. If native-born Americans aren’t going to have enough children to balance the longer-lived elderly population, the argument goes, then our only option is to increase immigration levels.

It’s not a crazy argument; it just happens to be incorrect. In reality, a significant body of research shows that the impact of immigration on population aging is small. While immigration can certainly make our population larger, it does not make us dramatically younger.

And yet, commentators have been making such arguments for years. The late Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer asserted in 1998 that America has been “saved by immigrants” from the kind of aging taking place in other first-world countries. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush famously said that America needed higher levels of immigration to “rebuild the demographic pyramid.” At the data-journalism site FiveThirtyEight, Ben Casselman has argued that immigration is the “only thing” preventing the country from facing a “demographic cliff.”

The release of the 2020 census showing the U.S. population grew by only 22.7 million since 2010, coupled with preliminary data indicating a sharp drop in fertility during the Covid-19 pandemic, have prompted a new round of articles asserting that immigration is the solution to population aging. The title of a recent Vox piece by Nicole Narea summed up this view: “The Census Shows the US Needs to Increase Immigration — By a Lot.” Similarly, George Mason University’s Justin Gest has called for doubling immigration to make the United States “younger, more productive and richer.”

But demographers have known for a long time that, absent truly gargantuan and ever-increasing rates of immigration, it isn’t actually possible for immigrants to undo or dramatically slow the overall aging of society. As Oxford demographer David Coleman observes, “it is already well known that [immigration] can only prevent population ageing at unprecedented, unsustainable and increasing levels of inflow.”

Those who argue that immigration is the key to dealing with an aging society are right about one thing: Both the share of the population that is of working age (16 to 64) and the ratio of workers to retirees are declining as Americans live longer and have fewer children. It is also true that, primarily due to post-1965 immigration, immigrants and first-generation Americans represent a growing share of the U.S. population and workforce. But this does not mean that immigration can dramatically slow or halt the aging of American society to nearly the degree that many seem to believe.

There are four broad reasons why the demography doesn’t support the political credo. First, not all immigrants arrive young — in fact, a growing share are arriving at or near retirement age. Second, immigrants age just like everyone else, adding to the elderly population over time. Third, immigrant fertility rates tend to converge with those of the native born. Fourth, to the extent that immigrants do have higher fertility rates than the native born, their children add to the dependent population — those too young or old to work. All of this means that immigration has only a modest impact on the working-age share of the population and the ratio of workers to retirees.

Immigration and Population

Studying the impact of immigration on population aging is nothing new for demographers. In a 1992 article in Demography — the top journal in the field — economist Carl Schmertmann explained that mathematically, “[c]onstant inflows of immigrants, even at relatively young ages, do not necessarily rejuvenate low-fertility populations. In fact, immigration may even contribute to population aging.” In 1994, Thomas Espenshade, the former chairman of Princeton’s sociology department and director of its graduate program in population studies, concluded the same. “Immigration,” he observed, “is a clumsy and unrealistic policy alternative to offset a shortage of domestic labor or to correct a perceived imbalance in the pensioner/worker ratio in the United States.” Likewise, as part of its population projections in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau stated that immigration is a “highly inefficient” means for increasing the working-age share in the long run.

More recent studies only confirm these conclusions. A paper I co-authored for the 2012 annual meeting of the Population Association of America, for instance, shows that future levels of immigration have a modest impact on population aging. A 2019 version of that paper, which is based on the most recent Census Bureau population projections, demonstrates the point yet again.

According to those projections, the total U.S. population will reach 404 million in 2060. This figure assumes current trends in net migration — the difference between the number of people arriving and those leaving — will continue, at an average rate of about 1.1 million each year. To determine the effect this level of immigration will have on the U.S. population, we can compare the bureau’s 2060 projection to the projected population under a scenario where net migration is zero (which is unlikely in the extreme, of course, but useful for our analysis). In this scenario, the U.S. population would decline slightly, to 329 million. The 75-million difference between the two figures represents the impact that immigration will have on the total population over the next 39 years.

The Census Bureau also estimates that, in 2060, 59 percent of the population will be of working age. Again, this is based on the assumption that net migration will amount to an average of 1.1 million each year. Under a zero-immigration scenario, just under 57 percent of the population would be of working age. In other words, while immigration is projected to add 75 million people to the American population by 2060, it will only increase the working-age share of the population by about two percentage points. Even if annual net immigration were expanded by 50 percent above what the Census Bureau projects, so that it averaged about 1.65 million a year, it would still only increase the working-age share of the population by three percentage points.

Part of the reason immigration has such a small effect on the working-age share of the population is that while it certainly adds new workers, it also adds to the number of retirees over time, as well as to the number of children. To be sure, these children eventually grow up and become workers. But by the time this happens, many of their immigrant parents will have reached retirement age. These two developments tend to cancel each other out over time. As a result, immigration does not have much of an impact on the share of the population that is of working age in the long run.

This fact is key to understanding why immigration has such a modest impact on overall population aging. Looking at the average age of immigrants over time, as opposed to projecting into the future, shows how this works. In 2000, the average age of all immigrants — not just new arrivals — was 39.2 years. By 2019, it was 46 — a seven-year increase. Over the same period, the average age of native-born Americans increased only slightly, from 35.4 years to 38 years. Part of the reason for the disparity is that all children born to immigrants are considered natives, so they add only to the native-born population. Nonetheless, the relatively high and increasing average age of all immigrants is a good reminder that they grow old like everyone else, even if they do arrive when relatively young.

Most people recognize why a larger senior population increases government expenditures, but fewer acknowledge that a larger population of children does so as well. Government spending on children makes up a sizeable portion of federal, state, and local budgets: The United States spent $726 billion on public schools during the 2017-2018 school year alone. Federal and state governments also spend more than $1 trillion per year on means-tested programs, a large share of which goes to families with children. Indeed all societies, including ours, devote enormous resources to providing for children, and for good reason. But a larger population of children means the state must spend more to provide for them.

Even if we were to exclude children from the analysis and focus solely on the ratio of working-age people to retirees (those 65 and over), the impact of immigration would still be modest. Under the Census Bureau’s current projections, there will be 2.5 working-age people per retiree in 2060. If the projected immigration rate were cut in half, there would be 2.3 workers per retiree. Commenting on our findings at a panel discussion, American Enterprise Institute scholar Nicholas Eberstadt summarized the upshot succinctly: “[I]mmigration cannot possibly over the long run maintain a youthful population structure.”

Of course, as Espenshade and Coleman suggest, it is theoretically possible to use immigration to preserve the current working-age share of the population, as well as the ratio of workers to retirees. But doing so would require levels of immigration that have no precedent in American history. Our analysis shows that, to roughly maintain the working-age share of the population, immigration rates would have to increase five-fold over what the bureau currently foresees. This would create a total population of 706 million in 2060 — more than double the current population. Under such a scenario, by 2060, most U.S. residents would be post-2019 immigrants or their offspring. This level of immigration would be transformative in the extreme; few aspects of society would remain untouched by adding so quickly and so dramatically to the U.S. population.

Immigration and Aging

Population projections provide a reasonable picture of what is likely to happen demographically in the future, but they also rely on assumptions about trends that are always changing. As a result, the newest Census Bureau projections do not fully reflect the significant increase in the age at which immigrants are now coming to America.

Although newcomers were slightly younger in 2019 than they were in 2018, the average age of new immigrants, including illegal immigrants, is still much higher than it was in the past — increasing from 26 in 2000 to 31 in 2019. Perhaps even more surprising, the share of newly arrived immigrants who are 55 and older more than doubled, from 5 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2019. This means that one in nine new immigrants is arriving old enough to move directly into a retirement community.

Why are immigrants arriving at older ages? One reason is that, as the United Nations has reported, fertility is declining and life expectancy is increasing worldwide. Rapidly aging populations in countries that send immigrants to the United States almost certainly translate into immigrants arriving at older ages, at least to some extent.

Even more importantly, U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents for permanent residence without numerical limits. Parents typically immigrate to the United States after age 50, meaning they tend to be at or near retirement age as soon as they arrive. As the number of naturalized citizens living in the United States has nearly doubled since 2000, it should come as no surprise that the number of immigrants arriving each year in the parents category has increased in turn.

It is fair to criticize this category of permanent immigration — at least for a society facing an entitlement-funding crisis, such as ours. But it would be politically difficult to end the program. Press accounts in recent years indicate that the Trump administration considered offering parents a continually renewable temporary visa instead of permanent residence, but no such policy was formally proposed. The Biden administration is unlikely to advance such an idea. And in any case, the approach would still have meant the arrival of perhaps 150,000 or more parents each year, who would have added to overall population aging.

The understandable desire of many immigrants to bring their parents to the United States means that any immigration reform that emerges from Congress will almost certainly allow a substantial number of older immigrants to enter the country on both permanent and long-term temporary visas. Once these individuals arrive, it is hard to imagine the government refusing to provide some level of assistance for them — after all, many elderly immigrants who did not work long enough to qualify for Social Security or Medicare often end up receiving Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Like our devotion to providing for children, our commitment to assisting the elderly is not without merit. But we should also be cognizant of how immigration policy affects our ability to make good on this commitment as our society ages.

Immigration and Fertility

A key reason for the aging of America’s population is the declining fertility rate among the native born. Many commentators assume that immigration can help reverse this trend, as they believe immigrant women tend to have many more children than do American-born women.

Yet as mentioned above, declining fertility rates are a near-universal trend. Several of the top countries that contribute to America’s immigrant population — including Cuba, Vietnam, China, and South Korea — have fertility rates near as low as, or even lower than, that of the United States. More importantly, immigrants living in the United States are increasingly reflecting these trends: Despite a 9 percent increase in the total number of immigrant women of childbearing age between 2008 and 2019, there were 158,000 fewer births to immigrant women in 2019 than there were in 2008.

As the graph below indicates, the total fertility rate (TFR) — the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime — for immigrant women has fallen steadily. In 2008, immigrant women had a TFR of 2.75. By 2019, the rate had fallen to 2.02. A TFR of 2.1 is widely considered necessary to maintain the existing population. Thus, for what is almost certainly the first time in American history, the immigrant fertility rate was below replacement level.

As the graph above indicates, the TFR for native-born women also declined over the same period. But it did so by roughly half as much as it has among immigrants. To be sure, the overall immigrant TFR of 2.02 is still higher than the 1.69 TFR of natives. But the presence of immigrants only pulls up the overall TFR in the United States to 1.76 — an increase of just 4 percent.

The steep decline in immigrant fertility has not received much media coverage, even while the fall-off in births nationwide has received a good deal of press. In fact, many people remain unaware that it has occurred. The Census Bureau is aware of the development, but again, the trends it relies on are always changing, and it takes time to incorporate changes of this kind into its population projections. As a result, the bureau’s most recent projections do not fully capture this trend, instead assuming a 2019 TFR for immigrants of 2.5 — well above the actual rate of 2.02. Because immigrant fertility is much lower than projected, the small, positive impact of immigration on population aging shown in the bureau’s projections is even smaller. What’s more, although the fertility numbers for 2020 are preliminary, we do know that fertility was down significantly in the country during the pandemic. There is no reason to believe immigrants bucked this trend.

Among native-born Americans, Hispanics have seen the steepest drop in fertility in recent years. American-born Hispanic women had a TFR of just 1.77 in 2019. The TFR was 1.42 for American-born Asian women that same year — both well below replacement level. The rate for native-born whites and blacks was 1.69 and 1.68, respectively. In short, among native-born whites, blacks, and Hispanics, there is now no meaningful difference in fertility rates, while the native-born Asian fertility rate is a good deal lower than the rest. Thus, in a very real sense, immigrants and their children are assimilating to American norms when it comes to family size. This means immigration is no game changer when it comes to the nation’s birth rate.

Intriguingly, some research indicates that immigration may actually lower the fertility rate of the native born, most likely by driving up housing costs, which discourages couples from starting or expanding their families. Kelvin Seah of the National University of Singapore has found that the Mariel Boatlift to Miami — during which about 125,000 Cuban immigrants arrived in the city during a five-month period in 1980 — caused a significant decline in native fertility. In an analysis completed this year, Karen Zeigler and I show that in large metropolitan areas, a higher share of immigrants in the population correlates with lower fertility among the native born, even after controlling for each city’s demographic characteristics. If this finding is confirmed, it could erase, and perhaps even reverse, the small positive impact of immigration on the nation’s overall fertility.

The Fiscal Picture

One of the central concerns about population aging is the ability of an older society to pay for government. With immigration, the hope is that young immigrants will help pay for entitlement programs. Of course, this depends on their actual tax payments relative to the fiscal costs they create. While many immigrants are young, are highly skilled, and have high incomes, immigrants on average have less education and lower incomes than do native-born Americans. This makes it difficult for them to generate the kind of fiscal surplus that would be necessary to help them pay for entitlement programs.

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) estimated the current net fiscal impact of all immigrants and their dependents using eight budgetary scenarios. In all eight of these scenarios, immigrants and their dependents were found to be a net fiscal drain, paying less in total taxes than the costs they created. Though they were found to be a surplus in four of the scenarios at the federal level, their fiscal drain at the state level offset the federal surplus.

Even if immigrants were able to shift the ratio of workers to retirees dramatically, it would not help fill public coffers if they are a net fiscal drain on government funds before they reach retirement age. The best evidence indicates that this is in fact the case, at least at present. One might think this fiscal drain is due to the immigrant population consisting of mostly newcomers who are still trying to find their way in America, but this is not so. In 2017, the average immigrant had lived in the United States for 21 years.

NASEM also ran long-term fiscal projections (out 75 years) for immigrants and their descendants, which showed a fiscal deficit in four of the scenarios and a surplus in the four others. Projections of this kind are quite speculative, involving not just predicting births, deaths, and migration in the way that population projections do, but also predictions about future tax rates, spending, economic growth, and the progress of immigrants over several generations. The upshot of the fiscal analysis is that the current situation is clearly negative, while the long-term impact is uncertain.

To be clear, immigrants are not a fiscal drain because they are lazy or because they came to America for welfare. In fact, working-age immigrants are slightly more likely to hold a job than are working-age natives. This is especially true of the least-educated immigrants, who are much more likely to work than are the least-educated natives. The main reason for the current fiscal drain is straightforward: Immigrants are less educated on average than are native-born Americans, and as a result, they have lower average incomes, lower average tax payments, and a higher use of means-tested programs than natives do.

One way to change the fiscal picture, at least for future immigrants, would be to move away from the current system, which admits people primarily because they have a family member here, and toward a system that selects more highly educated immigrants who are likely to earn high incomes. But given political realities, it’s hard to imagine that the admission of family members will not remain a significant component of U.S. immigration policy.

The bottom line is that it’s simply not reasonable to expect a family-based immigration system to create an inflow of highly educated, high-income immigrants who are likely to help solve our fiscal problems, no matter what it does to the age structure. This is especially true because, as a society, we have been unwilling to tax ourselves enough to pay for government — hence our enormous federal debt, even before the pandemic, and heavy borrowing at the state and local levels. As a result, the average American, whether immigrant or native born, is in fiscal deficit. Our unwillingness to pay for the programs we desire is, of course, not the fault of immigrants. But given current circumstances, admitting higher numbers of immigrants, even if they were average taxpayers, would worsen our fiscal situation.

Beyond Projections

Population projections, with their inherent uncertainty about future trends, are not the only way to think about the impact of immigration on the nation’s age structure; it’s also possible to estimate the impact of immigration based on what has happened in the recent past. The Census Bureau collects detailed data on immigrants (including most illegal immigrants) in the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey, making such retrospective analysis relatively straightforward. Since this method frees analysts from having to make any of the assumptions that would otherwise be necessary for developing a population projection, it is useful to our purposes here.

Zeigler and I have taken Census Bureau data from 2017 and found that, since 1990, immigrants — including the original immigrants, their children, and their grandchildren — have added 43 million people to the country. This total exceeds the combined population of 22 states and represents one in eight U.S. residents. Looking at this large and relatively young population offers a good test of the argument that immigration can solve the problem of an aging society.

Our analysis shows that these post-1990 immigrants and their progeny increased the overall working-age population percentage from 63.9 percent of Americans to 64.4 percent. The impact is small because, as already discussed, immigration added to both the number of workers and the number of people too young or too old to work. Even if the number of post-1990 immigrants and their offspring had been double the actual number, the working-age share would have increased to 64.8 percent — just 0.9 percentage points higher than if there had been no immigration at all.

As for the ratio of working-age people to those of retirement age, post-1990 immigrants raised it from 3.7 workers per retiree in 1990 to 4.1 potential workers per retiree in 2017. While not a trivial impact, this increase was still quite modest. The post-1990 immigrants did add a significant number of workers, but they also added over 2 million people aged 65 and older, as well as 2.7 million people nearing retirement (ages 55 to 64).

The overall conclusion from this retrospective analysis is that immigration had little effect on the working-age share of the population and a larger, but still modest, impact on the ratio of workers to retirees. This largely confirms the projection-based conclusions discussed above.

Alternative Strategies

If immigration is unlikely to dramatically transform the age demographics of our society, how can low-fertility, high-life-expectancy countries like the United States deal with population aging?

The most obvious solution is to raise the retirement age. One of the main reasons for the entitlement crisis as it relates to providing for the elderly is the increase in life expectancy. Pushing back the age of retirement — or at least the age when people can receive publicly funded old-age entitlements — would align policy with demographic reality.

The retirement age is not set in stone, as even today, programs like 401(k) accounts, private pensions, and government pensions can all be accessed at different ages. At present, the retirement age for full Social Security benefits is set to rise from 66 to 67 by 2027, while Medicare eligibility remains fixed at 65. Meanwhile, remaining in the workforce has become more common among the elderly, particularly among the so-called “young old” — those ages 65 to 69. In 2000, about a quarter of the people in this age group worked. By 2019, the portion had increased to one-third.

People who reach age 66 today can expect to live substantially longer than their counterparts in the 1930s did, when Social Security was created. If the retirement age for Social Security were increased to 70, it would still allow the average recipient to receive benefits for longer than retirees did in the 1930s while nearly preserving the working-age share of the population through 2060. As Eberstadt put it during the panel mentioned above, “raising the age of retirement has a bigger bang” when it comes to the share of the population who are workers than does immigration.

Our retrospective analysis confirms this conclusion. Raising the retirement age by just one year in 2017, assuming no post-1990 immigration, would have increased the ratio of workers to retirees by as much as the 43 million post-1990 immigrants and their offspring did. Increasing the retirement age by two years would have improved the worker-to-retiree ratio in 2017 more than did all 43 million post-1990 immigrants and their descendants combined.

Besides raising the retirement age, another effective option for addressing population aging is to increase the number of Americans in the labor force. By historical standards, the number and share of working-age people outside the labor force was quite high in 2020, even before the pandemic hit. At the start of 2020, about 71 percent of working-age non-institutionalized people — those not incarcerated or in long-term care facilities — were employed; the rest were either unemployed and looking for work or had left the labor force entirely. By then, labor-force participation rates across every major demographic subgroup had been declining among people without a bachelor’s degree for decades.

In our population projections, we found that if we assume the working age remains at 16 to 64, but the share of those working were raised to 75 percent from the pre-pandemic level of 71 percent, it would increase the worker share of the population by as much as would adding 75 million people to the population through immigration over the next four decades.

Returning discouraged workers to the labor force may not be easy given all the social problems many, especially the least educated among us, face. That said, as recently as 2000, 74 percent of working-age people were employed. Moving a larger share of working-age Americans back into the labor force is thus hardly unimaginable. Doing so would directly improve the ratio of workers to retirees and, as non-work is associated with significant social ills, would have some desirable non-economic effects on society to boot.

What Immigration Can’t Do

Every analytical approach to the question of aging demonstrates that, unless the level of immigration is truly enormous and ever-increasing, it will not solve or even significantly alleviate the challenges associated with an aging population.

The reason behind this truth is simple: Immigrants are human beings, not just the idealized workers or child-bearers that some commentators imagine. As humans, they immigrate at all ages, grow old over time, and are choosing to have smaller families. As a result, they add to the population across the age distribution and do not fundamentally change the nation’s age structure.

One can advocate for immigration for any number of reasons, including the fact that immigrants themselves benefit greatly by coming here. But it is simply dishonest, and therefore irresponsible, to claim that immigration will address the fiscal and other challenges of an aging society that maintains an enormous welfare state for the elderly.

Given this reality, we will need to think about other means of addressing our fiscal troubles, including changing the structure of our entitlement programs and coaxing more native-born Americans into the workforce. If we are serious about addressing the challenges associated with an aging society, we cannot depend on immigrants to save us.

Source: Immigration and the Aging Society

The dip in the US birthrate isn’t a crisis, but the fall in immigration may be

Similar argumentation to Canadian increased immigration advocates:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in May 2021 that the nation’s total fertility rate had reached 1.64 children per woman in 2020, dropping 4% from 2019, a record low for the nation.

The news led to many stories about a “baby bustharming the country. The fear is that if the trend continues, the nation’s population may age and that will lead to difficulties in funding entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid for seniors in the future.

But as a statistician and sociologist who collaborates with the United Nations Population Division to develop new statistical population forecasting methods, I’m not yet calling this a crisis. In fact, America’s 2020 birth rate is in line with trends going back over 40 years. Similar trends have been observed in most of the U.S.‘s peer countries.

The other reason this is not a crisis, at least not yet, is that America’s historically high immigration rates have put the country in a demographic sweet spot relative to other developed countries like Germany and Japan.

But that could change. A recent dramatic decline in immigration is now putting the country’s demographic advantage at risk.

Falling immigration may be America’s real demographic crisis, not the dip in birth rates.

A predictable change

Most countries have experienced part or all of a fertility transition.

Fertility transitions occur when fertility falls from a high level – typical of agricultural societies – to a low level, more common in industrialized countries. This transition is due to falling mortality, more education for women, the increasing cost of raising children and other reasons.

In 1800, American women on average gave birth to seven children. The fertility rate decreased steadily, falling to just 1.74 children per woman in 1976, marking the end of America’s fertility transition. This is the point after which fertility no longer declined systematically, but instead began to fluctuate.

Birth rates have slightly fluctuated up and down in the 45 years since, rising to 2.11 in 2007. This was unusually high for a country that has made its fertility transition, and put the U.S. birth rate briefly at the top of developed countries.

A decline soon followed. The U.S. birth rate dropped incrementally from 2007 to 2020, at an average rate of about 2% per year. 2020’s decline was in line with this, and indeed was slower than some previous declines, such as the ones in 2009 and 2010. It put the U.S. on par with its peer nations, below the U.K. and France, but above Canada and Germany.

Using the methods I’ve helped develop, in 2019 the U.N. forecast a continuing drop in the global birth rate for the period from 2020 to 2025. This methodology also forecast that the overall world population will continue to rise over the 21st century.

The ideal situation for a country is steady, manageable population growth, which tends to go in tandem with a dynamic labor market and adequate provision for seniors, through entitlement programs or care by younger family members. In contrast, countries with declining populations face labor shortages and squeezes on provisions for seniors. At the other extreme, countries with very fast population growth can face massive youth unemployment and other problems.

Many countries that are peers with the U.S. now face brutally sharp declines in the number of working-age people for every senior within the next 20 years. For example, by 2040, Germany and Japan will have fewer than two working-age adults for every retired adult. In China, the ratio will go down from 5.4 workers per aged adult now to 1.7 in the next 50 years.

By comparison, the worker-to-senior ratio in the U.S. will also decrease, but more slowly, from 3.5 in 2020 to 2.1 by 2070. By 2055, the U.S. will have more workers per retiree than even Brazil and China.

Germany, Japan and other nations face population declines, with Japan’s population projected to go down by a massive 40% by the end of the century. In Nigeria, on the other hand, the population is projected to more than triple, to over 700 million, because of the currently high fertility rate and young population.

In contrast, the U.S. population is projected to increase by 31% over the next 50 years, which is both manageable and good for the economy. This is slower than the growth of recent decades, but much better than the declines faced by peer industrialized nations.

The reason for this is immigration. The U.S. has had the most net immigration in the world for decades, and the projections are based on the assumption that this will continue.

Migrants tend to be young, and to work. They contribute to the economy and bring dynamism to the society, along with supporting existing retirees, reducing the burden on current workers.

However, this source of demographic strength is at risk. Net migration into the U.S. declined by 40% from 2015 to 2019, likely at least in part because of unwelcoming government policies.

If this is not reversed, the country faces a demographic future more like that of Germany or even Japan, with a rapidly aging population and the economic and social problems that come with it. The jury is out on whether family-friendly social policies will have enough positive impact on fertility to compensate.

If U.S. net migration continues on its historical trend as forecast by the U.N., the U.S. population will continue to increase at a healthy pace for the rest of the century. In contrast, if U.S. net migration continues only at the much lower 2019 rate, population growth will grind almost to a halt by 2050, with about 60 million fewer people by 2100. The fall in migration would also accelerate the aging of the U.S. population, with 7% fewer workers per senior by 2060, leading to possible labor shortages and challenges in funding Social Security and Medicare.

While the biggest stream of immigrants is from Latin America, that is likely to decrease in the future given the declining fertility rates and aging populations there. In the longer term, more immigrants are likely to come from sub-Saharan Africa, and it will be important for America’s demographic future to attract, welcome and retain them.

Source: The dip in the US birthrate isn’t a crisis, but the fall in immigration may be

Long Slide Looms for World Population, With Sweeping Ramifications

One of the more significant articles I have seen recently, highlighting the need for countries and societies to adapt to declining populations. While traditional immigrant receiving countries like Canada, Australia and the USA can blunt the decline somewhat, they will also feel the effects on an aging population.

Just as in climate change where adaptation and reduction strategies are both needed, relying only on immigration, as Canada largely does, to mitigate (slow down) the decline, will not address successfully the longer-term trends.

Politicians, policy makers and stakeholders need to devote more attention to other policy responses beyond simply increased immigration. After all, declining populations in most of our source countries may make Canada relatively less attractive in economic terms:

All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.

Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.

Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.

A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women. But the census announcements this month from China and the United States, which showed the slowest rates of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to hard-to-fathom adjustments.

The strain of longer lives and low fertility, leading to fewer workers and more retirees, threatens to upend how societies are organized — around the notion that a surplus of young people will drive economies and help pay for the old. It may also require a reconceptualization of family and nation. Imagine entire regions where everyone is 70 or older. Imagine governments laying out huge bonuses for immigrants and mothers with lots of children. Imagine a gig economy filled with grandparents and Super Bowl ads promoting procreation.

“A paradigm shift is necessary,” said Frank Swiaczny, a German demographer who was the chief of population trends and analysis for the United Nations until last year. “Countries need to learn to live with and adapt to decline.”

The ramifications and responses have already begun to appear, especially in East Asia and Europe. From Hungary to China, from Sweden to Japan, governments are struggling to balance the demands of a swelling older cohort with the needs of young people whose most intimate decisions about childbearing are being shaped by factors both positive (more work opportunities for women) and negative (persistent gender inequality and high living costs).

The 20th century presented a very different challenge. The global population saw its greatest increase in known history, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000, as life spans lengthened and infant mortality declined. In some countries — representing about a third of the world’s people — those growth dynamics are still in play. By the end of the century, Nigeria could surpass China in population; across sub-Saharan Africa, families are still having four or five children.

But nearly everywhere else, the era of high fertility is ending. As women have gained more access to education and contraception, and as the anxieties associated with having children continue to intensify, more parents are delaying pregnancy and fewer babies are being born. Even in countries long associated with rapid growth, such as India and Mexico, birthrates are falling toward, or are already below, the replacement rate of 2.1 children per family.

The change may take decades, but once it starts, decline (just like growth) spirals exponentially. With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents did — which is happening in dozens of countries — the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.

“It becomes a cyclical mechanism,” said Stuart Gietel Basten, an expert on Asian demographics and a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s demographic momentum.”

Some countries, like the United States, Australia and Canada, where birthrates hover between 1.5 and 2, have blunted the impact with immigrants. But in Eastern Europe, migration out of the region has compounded depopulation, and in large parts of Asia, the “demographic time bomb” that first became a subject of debate a few decades ago has finally gone off.

South Korea’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019 — less than one child per woman, the lowest rate in the developed world. Every month for the past 59 months, the total number of babies born in the country has dropped to a record depth.

That declining birthrate, coupled with a rapid industrialization that has pushed people from rural towns to big cities, has created what can feel like a two-tiered society. While major metropolises like Seoul continue to grow, putting intense pressure on infrastructure and housing, in regional towns it’s easy to find schools shut and abandoned, their playgrounds overgrown with weeds, because there are not enough children.

Expectant mothers in many areas can no longer find obstetricians or postnatal care centers. Universities below the elite level, especially outside Seoul, find it increasingly hard to fill their ranks — the number of 18-year-olds in South Korea has fallen from about 900,000 in 1992 to 500,000 today. To attract students, some schools have offered scholarships and even iPhones.

To goose the birthrate, the government has handed out baby bonuses. It increased child allowances and medical subsidies for fertility treatments and pregnancy. Health officials have showered newborns with gifts of beef, baby clothes and toys. The government is also building kindergartens and day care centers by the hundreds. In Seoul, every bus and subway car has pink seats reserved for pregnant women.

But this month, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki admitted that the government — which has spent more than $178 billion over the past 15 years encouraging women to have more babies — was not making enough progress. In many families, the shift feels cultural and permanent.

“My grandparents had six children, and my parents five, because their generations believed in having multiple children,” said Kim Mi-kyung, 38, a stay-at-home parent. “I have only one child. To my and younger generations, all things considered, it just doesn’t pay to have many children.”

Thousands of miles away, in Italy, the sentiment is similar, with a different backdrop.

In Capracotta, a small town in southern Italy, a sign in red letters on an 18th-century stone building looking on to the Apennine Mountains reads “Home of School Kindergarten” — but today, the building is a nursing home.

Residents eat their evening broth on waxed tablecloths in the old theater room.

“There were so many families, so many children,” said Concetta D’Andrea, 93, who was a student and a teacher at the school and is now a resident of the nursing home. “Now there is no one.”

The population in Capracotta has dramatically aged and contracted — from about 5,000 people to 800. The town’s carpentry shops have shut down. The organizers of a soccer tournament struggled to form even one team.

About a half-hour away, in the town of Agnone, the maternity ward closed a decade ago because it had fewer than 500 births a year, the national minimum to stay open. This year, six babies were born in Agnone.

“Once you could hear the babies in the nursery cry, and it was like music,” said Enrica Sciullo, a nurse who used to help with births there and now mostly takes care of older patients. “Now there is silence and a feeling of emptiness.”

In a speech last Friday during a conference on Italy’s birthrate crisis, Pope Francis said the “demographic winter” was still “cold and dark.”

More people in more countries may soon be searching for their own metaphors. Birth projections often shift based on how governments and families respond, but according to projections by an international team of scientists published last year in The Lancet, 183 countries and territories — out of 195 — will have fertility rates below replacement level by 2100.

Their model shows an especially sharp decline for China, with its population expected to fall from 1.41 billion now to about 730 million in 2100. If that happens, the population pyramid would essentially flip. Instead of a base of young workers supporting a narrower band of retirees, China would have as many 85-year-olds as 18-year-olds.

China’s rust belt, in the northeast, saw its population drop by 1.2 percent in the past decade, according to census figures released on Tuesday. In 2016, Heilongjiang Province became the first in the country to have its pension system run out of money. In Hegang, a “ghost city” in the province that has lost almost 10 percent of its population since 2010, homes cost so little that people compare them to cabbage.

Many countries are beginning to accept the need to adapt, not just resist. South Korea is pushing for universities to merge. In Japan, where adult diapers now outsell ones for babies, municipalities have been consolidated as towns age and shrink. In Sweden, some cities have shifted resources from schools to elder care. And almost everywhere, older people are being asked to keep working. Germany, which previously raised its retirement age to 67, is now considering a bump to 69.

Going further than many other nations, Germany has also worked through a program of urban contraction: Demolitions have removed around 330,000 units from the housing stock since 2002.

And if the goal is revival, a few green shoots can be found. After expanding access to affordable child care and paid parental leave, Germany’s fertility rate recently increased to 1.54, up from 1.3 in 2006. Leipzig, which once was shrinking, is now growing again after reducing its housing stock and making itself more attractive with its smaller scale.

“Growth is a challenge, as is decline,” said Mr. Swiaczny, who is now a senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany.

Demographers warn against seeing population decline as simply a cause for alarm. Many women are having fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations could lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for the smaller numbers of children who are born.

But, said Professor Gietel Basten, quoting Casanova: “There is no such thing as destiny. We ourselves shape our lives.”

The challenges ahead are still a cul-de-sac — no country with a serious slowdown in population growth has managed to increase its fertility rate much beyond the minor uptick that Germany accomplished. There is little sign of wage growth in shrinking countries, and there is no guarantee that a smaller population means less stress on the environment.

Many demographers argue that the current moment may look to future historians like a period of transition or gestation, when humans either did or did not figure out how to make the world more hospitable — enough for people to build the families that they want.

Surveys in many countries show that young people would like to be having more children, but face too many obstacles.

Anna Parolini tells a common story. She left her small hometown in northern Italy to find better job opportunities. Now 37, she lives with her boyfriend in Milan and has put her desire to have children on hold.

She is afraid her salary of less than 2,000 euros a month would not be enough for a family, and her parents still live where she grew up.

“I don’t have anyone here who could help me,” she said. “Thinking of having a child now would make me gasp.”


For more conventional thinking, see the Foreign Affairs article by , which is similar to the arguments of the Century Initiative, Irving Studin and others. Only at the end does the author acknowledge that “quality” (e.g., human capital, skills etc) matter as much if not more than numbers):

The United States’ global preeminence owes a great deal to demographics. After the collapse and fragmenting of the Soviet Union, the United States became the world’s third most populous country, behind the giants China and India. By comparison to other developed countries, the United States maintained unusually high levels of fertility and immigration—a phenomenon I termed “American demographic exceptionalism” in these pages in 2019. Since the end of the Cold War, the overall American population and its number of working-age people (between the ages of 20 and 64) have grown more rapidly than those of other developed countries—and faster, too, than those of rivals China and Russia. Growing working-age populations boost national productivity in economies run by governments that can successfully develop and tap human resources. For modern welfare states, the slower aging of the population forestalls some of the fiscal burdens built into current arrangements.  

To the extent that crude demographic trends matter in world affairs, they have been running to the United States’ advantage for some time. But big changes are underway. The initial returns from the U.S. 2020 census and the reports about last year’s birth totals offered sobering news: with the slowdown of population growth and steady declines in national fertility, the United States now seems to be charting a less optimistic demographic path, one leading to a grayer and less populous future.   

The United States may be losing its advantage and becoming less exceptional as Americans choose to have fewer children. To the degree that lower birthrates signal diminished popular confidence about the future, the drop-off in fertility warrants attention and perhaps concern. Slower population growth could also have troublesome longer-term implications for Washington’s pay-as-you-go entitlements for senior citizens and other social welfare programs. But a look under the hood of the latest population data and projections suggests that there is no immediate reason to be alarmed about the country’s prospective international standing. The United States will remain in a strong demographic position with respect to its competitors for decades to come.


The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 “headline” numbers formally ratify something demographers already knew: the United States’ population growth has been decelerating steadily since 1990—and is now at the slowest recorded tempo in the country’s history, apart from the Great Depression era. Between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. population grew by an estimated 7.4 percent. That is a distinctly slower rate of growth than that of the previous decade, when the United States’ population grew by just under ten percent.

Interestingly—some would say surprisingly—immigration does not seem to have much to do with this slowdown: indirect indications suggest net immigration amounted to about a million people a year over the 2010s, roughly the same level as in the previous decade. Rather, changes in birth and death trends explain the shift. “Natural increase”—the total number of births minus deaths—averaged 1.7 million annually for the decade between 2000 and 2009 but just 1.2 million between 2010 and 2019. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it fell below 900,000, the lowest annual sum on record since at least 1933, when the United States’ nationwide birth and death registration system was completed.

The falloff in U.S. natural increase in the 2010s was partly due to an increase in annual deaths—an entirely predictable result of the aging of the overall population. But the slump in births played a greater role. Birth totals in 2019 were down by over half a million from their all-time high of 4.3 million in 2007, just before the Great Recession.

Total fertility rates—a measure of births per woman per lifetime—tell the American childbearing story on a more human scale. For the two decades leading up to the Great Recession, the United States’ total fertility rate averaged just over two births per woman. Between 2007 and 2019, however, the U.S. rate dropped from over 2.1 (just above the level for long-term population replacement) to 1.7, below replacement level. That was the lowest rate ever recorded for the United States—until now. The provisional birth figures for 2020 indicate another four percent drop, to about 3.6 million,  implying a 2020 national total fertility rate of around 1.64—more than 20 percent below replacement level.

The available data document a substantial and remarkably widespread fertility reduction since the Great Recession. Demographers are wary of supplying definitive reasons for such changes. Economic concerns may play a part, with some blamingthe high costs of child-rearing for their reluctance to have more children or any children at all. Younger generations may also have different priorities and cultural attitudes from those of their predecessors; the rising cohort of millennials, who make up most of today’s population of childbearing ages, is decidedly less religious and also less sanguine about the future.


But the demographic future remains relatively bright for the United States. The 2020 census results seem far from harbingers of doom, especially when placed in a broader context. Take, for instance, some of the low-end projections of future U.S. population growth. The UN Population Division’s “low variant” models are instructive: these assign the United States a total fertility rate below 1.4 for the second half of the 2020s—a nationwide average lower, in other words, than that of any single U.S. state in 2019—and an even lower rate during the 2030s and 2040s. Even with this strikingly low fertility rate, the projected U.S. population would still rise for the next generation, peaking in 2047 at just under 350 million people, where it would roughly remain through 2050. The number of working-age people would likewise rise modestly during the next quarter century in this scenario—to a projected 2050 level about five percent higher than the corresponding total for 2020.

As that exercise demonstrates, the 2020 census results should not cause a “depopulationist” panic. Even with extreme and unrelenting sub-replacement fertility levels, the United States’ total population and working-age population are on course to keep growing. Continuing migration and the “population momentum” built into the United States’ current demographic structure (as rising cohorts move into age groups currently occupied by comparatively smaller cohorts) would push the overall U.S. population and working-age population to higher totals for at least another generation.

As a result, the United States will likely retain a demographic edge over other great powers. China, Japan, Russia, and the countries of the European Union have all had sub-replacement fertility rates for much longer than the United States. Their current fertility levels are all lower than that of the United States. And their populations are all older than the U.S. population today. (China has the most youthful population of those other powers, but its median age has already exceeded that of the United States.)

The United States’ most recent year of achieving replacement-level fertility was 2008. By contrast, Japan and the EU fell into sub-replacement fertility in the 1970s, China and Russia in the early 1990s. Although the United States’ surfeit of births over deaths has been steadily dwindling for over a decade, deaths have outnumbered births in the EU since about 2012, and Eurostat projects the combined population of the 27 EU member states will begin shrinking around 2025. Japan has had a surplus of deaths over births since 2007 and a continuously shrinking population since 2011. Russia has seen nearly 14 million more deaths than births since the fall of the Soviet Union.

As for China (as I noted in Foreign Affairs back in 2019 and again this year), the working-age population is already in decline; depopulation is set to commence within the coming decade—perhaps much sooner—and the country is on a path toward extremely rapid population aging, with all that implies for economic performance and domestic social need. The particulars of China’s future demographic course will become clearer when the details of China’s 2020 census are divulged—but Beijing’s unexplained month-long delay in announcing even summary findings from the count suggests official displeasure with those results. Among other unpleasant demographic surprises, the Chinese Communist Party has seen births plunge since the suspension of the regime’s harsh one-child policy in 2015. China’s still imperfect vital registration system tallied almost 18 million births in 2016, but the 2020 census reports only 12 million births in 2020. That extremely low reading may reflect the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic (a crisis the regime insists it has always had well under control)—but as demographers learn more, they may find that China’s demographic slide is progressing even more rapidly than they thought.

Of all the presumptive great powers, only India stands to see greater and more rapid total population and working-age population growth than the United States over the coming generation and to remain a more youthful society than the United States. As is well known, in just a few years India will displace China as the world’s most populous country and will surpass China in working-age population shortly after that. But India is now entering sub-replacement fertility, too: UN estimates suggest India’s under 20 population is already declining, and India’s working-age population could peak before 2050.


The dip in fertility in the United States does suggest that clear-cut U.S. demographic exceptionalism may be over, at least for the time being. The United States will likely surrender its place as the third most populous country in the world to Nigeria at some point before 2050. But it will remain a fairly young and vital society, at least with respect to other developed countries and to competitors such as China and Russia.

Nevertheless, U.S. strategists and policymakers should not take too much comfort in this fact. Raw population numbers won’t on their own strengthen the United States in its competition with others. The United States must also maintain its edge over competitors in developing human capital—a lead that has been dwindling for decades. Revitalizing health, education, and other facets of the country’s human resource base is an urgent task in its own right—and will pay geopolitical dividends.


With Great Demographics Comes Great Power: Why Population Will Drive Geopolitics

Same logic as with Canadian advocates for a much larger population such as the Century Initiative. But of course, should other countries adopt similar strategies, any “population race” will not change relative positions. And the geopolitical perspective is a limited one compared to broader perspectives of prosperity, quality of life and well-being:

Demographics may not be destiny, but for students of geopolitics, they come close. Although conventional measures of economic and military power often receive more attention, few factors influence the long-term competition between great powers as much as changes in the size, capabilities, and characteristics of national populations.

The United States is a case in point. In 1850, the United States was home to some 23 million people, 13 million fewer than France. Today, the U.S. population is close to 330 million, larger than the British, Dutch, French, German, and Italian populations combined. For more than a century, the United States has had the world’s largest skilled work force, and by measures such as mean years of adult schooling, it has long had among the world’s most highly educated populations. These favorable demographic fundamentals, more than geography or natural resources, explain why the United States emerged as the world’s preeminent economic and military power after World War II—and why it still occupies that position today.

Yet past performance is no guarantee of future results. Thanks in large part to demographics, rival states such as China have become genuine great-power competitors over the past few decades. The United States, meanwhile, has eroded or squandered its demographic edge in a number of ways, even as its traditional allies in Europe and Asia have struggled with population stagnation or decline. So far, the damage to U.S. power has been limited by the fact that the United States’ main geopolitical rivals face serious demographic problems of their own. Gazing further into the future, however, population growth and rising levels of education may propel new countries toward great-power status.

Demographics offer a clue to the geopolitical world of the future—and how Washington should prepare for it. To maintain the United States’ edge, American leaders must take steps to slow or reverse the negative demographic trends now eating away at the foundations of U.S. power. They must also begin to rethink Washington’s global strategy, recognizing that the future of the U.S.-led international order lies with the young and growing democracies of the developing world. With wise domestic policy and farsighted diplomacy, U.S. leaders can ensure that their country’s still considerable human resources reinforce American power long into the coming century.


For premodern empires and kingdoms, a larger population meant more people to tax and send off to war. But thanks to modern economic development, demographics are more important now than ever before. Since the Industrial Revolution, technological innovations and other improvements in human productivity have led to a long-term decline in the price of natural resources and basic commodities such as food. At the same time, they have greatly increased the returns to skilled labor. In fact, most global economic growth since World War II can be attributed to two factors: improvements in human capital—a catchall term for education, health, nutrition, training, and other factors that determine an individual worker’s potential—and favorable business climates, which allowed the value of those human resources to be unlocked. Human capital, in particular, has an extraordinary impact on economies. For each year of increased life expectancy today, for instance, a country sees a permanent increase in per capita income of about four percent. And for each additional year of schooling that a country’s citizens obtain, the country sees, on average, a ten percent increase in per capita GDP.

Vast disparities between human capital development in different countries have produced gaps in economic productivity that are larger today than at any previous point in history. For example, in 2017, according to World Bank estimates, Ireland’s per capita GDP was roughly 100 times as high as that of the Central African Republic (when adjusted for relative purchasing power). Yet such disparities are not set in stone: thanks to technological breakthroughs, nations can now augment their human capital faster than ever before. It took Sweden from 1886 to 2003 to raise its life expectancy from 50 years to 80 years; South Korea accomplished the same feat in less than half the time, between the late 1950s and 2009.

Despite the possibility of such rapid and often unexpected improvements in human capital, demography as a whole is a fairly predictable social science. Unlike economic or technological forecasts, population projections tend to be reasonably accurate for at least a few decades, since most of the people who will be living in the world of 2040, for example, are already alive today. And although such projections cannot predict the future, they can offer a rough guide to the emerging contours of international politics—the changing realm of the possible in world affairs. Policymakers who want to plan for the long term should be paying attention.


Today, the international arena is dominated by one superpower (the United States) and two great powers (China and Russia). Recent U.S. misadventures abroad and political turbulence at home have naturally led some to suggest that American power is on the wane. A look at demographic projections for China and Russia, however, suggests that fears that the United States will lose its position of primacy anytime soon are misplaced. 

China is the United States’ main international rival, and at first glance, it is an impressive rival indeed. It is the world’s most populous country, with almost 1.4 billion people, and over the past four decades, it has seen the most rapid and sustained burst of economic growth in human history. Adjusting for relative purchasing power, the Chinese economy is now the largest in the world. China’s growth since the 1970s is usually attributed to the policies of Deng Xiaoping, who pushed the country in a more market-friendly direction after becoming the paramount leader in 1978. But demographics also played a critical role. Between 1975 and 2010, China’s working-age population (those aged 15–64) nearly doubled, and total hours worked grew even faster, as the country abandoned the Maoist policies that had made paid labor both less available and less appealing. Overall health and educational attainment rose rapidly, as well.

Given this impressive record, many—apparently including China’s leadership—expect that China will surpass the United States as the world’s leading power sometime in the next two decades. Yet the country’s longer-term demographic prospects suggest otherwise. Over the past two generations, China has seen a collapse in fertility, exacerbated by Beijing’s ruthless population-control programs. The one-child policy, introduced in 1979, was ended in 2015, but the damage had already been done. China’s total fertility rate (TFR) has been below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman since at least the early 1990s. According to the UN Population Division, China’s TFR now stands at 1.6, but some analysts, such as Cai Fang, a Chinese demographer and member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, believe it may be as low as 1.4—more than 30 percent below replacement. In major cities such as Shanghai, fertility may stand at one birth per woman or less.

With decades of extremely low fertility in its immediate past, decades more of that to come, and no likelihood of mass immigration, China will see its population peak by 2027, according to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau. Its working-age population has already been shrinking for the past five years, and it is set to decrease by at least 100 million between 2015 and 2040. The country will see a particularly large decline in its working-age population under 30, which may plunge by nearly 30 percent over these years. Although this rising generation will be the best educated in Chinese history, the country’s overall growth in educational attainment will slow as the less educated older generations come to make up a larger and larger share of the total population. The Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital estimates that by 2040, China’s adult population will have fewer average years of schooling than that of Bolivia or Zimbabwe.

As China’s working population slumps, its over-65 population is set to explode. Between 2015 and 2040, the number of Chinese over the age of 65 is projected to rise from about 135 million to 325 million or more. By 2040, China could have twice as many elderly people as children under the age of 15, and the median age of China’s population could rise to 48, up from 37 in 2015 and less than 25 in 1990. No country has ever gone gray at a faster pace. The process will be particularly extreme in rural China, as young Chinese migrate to the cities in search of opportunity. On the whole, China’s elderly in 2040 will be both poor and poorly educated, dependent on others for the overwhelming majority of their consumption and other needs.

Taken together, these unfavorable demographic trends are creating heavy headwinds for the Chinese economy. To make matters worse, China faces additional adverse demographic factors. Under the one-child policy, for instance, Chinese parents often opted for an abortion over giving birth to a girl, creating one of the most imbalanced infant and child sex ratios in the modern world. In the years ahead, China will have to deal with the problem of tens of millions of surplus men, mostly from disadvantaged rural backgrounds, with no prospects of marrying, having children, or continuing their family line. 

China will also face a related problem over the next generation, as traditional Chinese family structures atrophy or evaporate. Since the beginning of written history, Chinese society has relied on extended kinship networks to cope with economic risks. Yet a rising generation of urban Chinese youth is made up of only children of only children, young men and women with no siblings, cousins, aunts, or uncles. The end of 2,500 years of family tradition will be a departure into the unknown for Chinese civilization—and Beijing is manifestly unprepared for this impending great leap.


For Russia, the demographic outlook may be even worse. The Kremlin sees itself as helming a global power, yet its grandiose self-conception is badly mismatched with the human resources at its disposal. From the standpoint of population and human capital, Russia looks like a power in the grip of all but irremediable decline.

In some respects, Russia is a typical European country: it has an aging, shrinking population and difficulties assimilating the low-skilled immigrant work force on which its economy increasingly depends. When it comes to human capital, however, Russia faces an acute crisis. After fully half a century of stagnation or regression, Russia has finally seen an improvement over the last decade in the overall health of its people, as evidenced by measures such as life expectancy at birth. But the situation is still dire. In 2016, according to the World Health Organization, 15-year-old Russian males could expect to live another 52.3 years: slightly less than their counterparts in Haiti. Fifteen-year-old Russian females, although better off than the males, had a life expectancy only slightly above the range for the UN’s roster of least developed countries.

In addition to its health problems, Russia is failing in knowledge production. Call it “the Russian paradox”: high levels of schooling, low levels of human capital. Despite an ostensibly educated citizenry, Russia (with a population of 145 million) earns fewer patents each year from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office than the state of Alabama (population: five million). Russia earns less from service exports than Denmark, with its population of six million, and has less privately held wealth than Sweden, with a population of ten million. And since Russia’s working-age population is set to age and shrink between 2015 and 2040, its relative economic potential will diminish, too.

Ambitious revisionist states such as Russia can, for a time, punch above their weight in international affairs. Yet for all of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign meddling and military adventurism, his country is facing demographic constraints that will make it extraordinarily difficult for him and his successors to maintain, much less seriously improve, Russia’s geopolitical position.


Relative to its principal rivals, the United States is in an enviable position. This should come as no surprise: the United States has been the most powerful country in the world since World War II, and its demographic advantages—its large and highly educated population, relatively high fertility rates, and welcoming immigration policies—have been crucial to that success.

The United States’ most obvious demographic advantage is its size. It is the world’s third most populous country, and it is likely to remain so until 2040. No other developed country even comes close—the second and third largest, Japan and Germany, have populations that are two-fifths and one-fourth the size of the U.S. population, respectively. Between 1990 and 2015, the United States generated nearly all the population growth for the UN’s “more developed regions,” and both UN and U.S. Census Bureau projections suggest that it will generate all of these regions’ population growth between 2015 and 2040. In fact, excluding sub-Saharan Africa—the only region where the rate of population growth is still increasing—the U.S. population is on track to grow slightly faster than the world population between now and 2040. 

The United States benefits from what might be called “American demographic exceptionalism.” Compared with other developed countries, the United States has long enjoyed distinctly high immigration levels and birthrates. Between 1950 and 2015, close to 50 million people immigrated to the United States, accounting for nearly half of the developed world’s net immigration over that time period. These immigrants and their descendants made up most of the United States’ population growth over those decades. But U.S. fertility is also unusually high for an affluent society. Apart from a temporary dip during and immediately after the Vietnam War, the United States’ birthrates after World War II have consistently exceeded the developed-country average. Between the mid-1980s and the financial crisis of 2008, the United States was the only rich country with replacement-level fertility. Assuming continued levels of immigration and near-replacement fertility, most demographers project that by 2040, the United States will have a population of around 380 million. It will have a younger population than almost any other rich democracy, and its working-age population will still be expanding. And unlike the rest of the developed world in 2040, it will still have more births than deaths.

Yet the United States’ demographic advantage is not merely a function of numbers. For over a century, the United States has benefited from a large and growing cadre of highly skilled workers. Research by the economists Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee on educational attainment suggests that between 1870 and 2010, Americans were the world’s most highly educated people in terms of average years of schooling for the working-age population. In 2015, by their estimate, 56 million men and women in the United States aged 25 to 64 had undergraduate degrees or graduate degrees: twice as many as in China and almost one-sixth of the global total. The United States leads the world in research and development, as measured by international patent applications and scientific publications, and in wealth generation, with Americans having accumulated more private wealth since 2000 than the Chinese have in recorded history.


Despite these advantages, all is not well for the United States. Warning lights are flashing for a number of key demographic metrics. In 2014, U.S. life expectancy began slowly but steadily dropping for the first time in a century. This drop is partly due to the surge in so-called deaths of despair (deaths from suicide, a drug overdose, or complications from alcoholism), especially in economically depressed regions of the country. Yet even before the decline began, U.S. progress in public health indicators had been painfully slow and astonishingly expensive. Improvements in educational attainment have also been stalled for decades: as of 2010, American adults born in the early 1980s had, on average, 13.7 years of schooling, only fractionally higher than the average of 13.5 years for their parents’ generation, born in the early 1950s. Meanwhile, employment rates for American men of prime working age (25–54) are at levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Further, it is possible that consensus projections for U.S. population growth are too optimistic. Such projections generally assume that U.S. fertility will return to replacement levels. But U.S. fertility fell by about ten percent after 2008 and shows no sign of recovering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, the United States’ TFR stood at 1.77, the lowest level since the 1970s and below those of European countries such as France and Sweden. Most demographic projections also assume that the United States will maintain net immigration at its current level of roughly one million per year. But immigration is an intrinsically political phenomenon. In the past, the United States has decided to all but shut off immigration in response to domestic turbulence, and it may do so again.

Even with these troubling signs of decline, no rival is likely to overtake the United States in terms of raw human potential anytime soon. China and India, for instance, may have more college-educated workers than the United States does by 2040, but the superior quality of U.S. higher education will weigh heavily in the United States’ favor, and the United States will almost certainly still have the world’s largest pool of workers with graduate degrees. If U.S. demographic and human resource indicators continue to stagnate or regress, however, Americans may lose their appetite for playing a leading role in international affairs. Isolationism and populism could thrive, and the U.S. electorate could be unwilling to bear the considerable costs of maintaining the international order. There is also a nontrivial risk that the United States’ relatively disappointing trends in health and education will harm its long-term economic performance.

To avoid these outcomes, the United States will need to revitalize its human resource base and restore its dynamism in business, health, and education. Doing so will be immensely difficult—a far-reaching undertaking that is beyond the powers of the federal government alone. The first step, however, is for Americans of all political persuasions to recognize the urgency of the task.


Even as they try to put U.S. demographic trends back on track, American policymakers should also begin considering what U.S. strategy should look like in a world in which demographic advantages no longer guarantee U.S. hegemony. One appealing solution would be to rely more on traditional U.S. partners. Japan’s GDP is nearly four times as large as Russia’s on an exchange-rate basis, and although its total population is slightly smaller than Russia’s, it has a larger cadre of highly skilled workers. The current population of the EU is around 512 million, nearly 200 million more than that of the United States, and its economy is still substantially larger than China’s on an exchange-rate basis.

The trouble is that many of Washington’s traditional allies face even more daunting demographic challenges than does the United States. The EU member states and Japan, for instance, all have healthy, well-educated, and highly productive populations. Yet the EU and Japan have both registered sub-replacement fertility rates since the 1970s, and their fertility rates began to drop far below the replacement level in the 1980s. In both the EU and Japan, deaths now outnumber births. Their working-age populations are in long-term decline, and their overall populations are aging at rates that would have sounded like science fiction not so long ago. The main demographic difference between the EU and Japan is that Europe has embraced immigration and Japan has not.

Both approaches have their drawbacks. For EU members, immigration has postponed the shrinking of their work forces and slowed the aging of their populations. Yet the EU’s record of integrating newcomers, particularly Muslims from poorer countries, is uneven at best, and cultural conflicts over immigration are roiling politics across the continent. Japan has avoided these convulsions, but at the cost of rapid and irreversible population decline. As in China, this is leading to an implosion of the traditional Japanese family. Japanese demographers project that a woman born in Japan in 1990 has close to a 40 percent chance of having no children of her own and a 50 percent chance of never having grandchildren. Japan is not just graying: it is becoming a country of elderly social isolates, with rising needs and decreasing family support.

Population decline does not preclude improvements in living standards, but it is a drag on relative economic and military power. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States’ working-age population is set to grow by about ten percent between 2015 and 2040. Over the same period, Germany’s and South Korea’s working-age populations are expected to shrink by 20 percent, and Japan’s, by 22 percent. The number of young men aged 15 to 24, the group from which military manpower is typically drawn, is projected to increase over that period by three percent in the United States but to fall by 23 percent in Germany, 25 percent in Japan, and almost 40 percent in South Korea.

This decline, combined with the budgetary politics of the modern welfare state—borrowing money from future generations to pay for the current benefits of older voters—means that most U.S. treaty allies will become less willing and able to provide for their own defense over the coming decades. The United States, in other words, will become ever more valuable to its aging security partners at the same time as they become less valuable to Washington—all while the United States’ own demographic advantage is beginning to erode.


Yet even as population trends sap the strength of traditional powers in Europe and East Asia, they are propelling a whole new set of countries, many of them potential U.S. allies and partners, toward great-power status. By courting these rising powers, U.S. policymakers can strengthen the international order for decades to come.

Washington should begin by turning its attention to South and Southeast Asia. As Japan and South Korea lose population, for instance, emerging democracies such as Indonesia and the Philippines will continue to grow. By 2040, Indonesia could have a population of over 300 million, up from around 260 million today, and the Philippines’ population could reach 140 million—which would be possibly larger than Russia’s. Both countries, moreover, are young and increasingly well educated. In 2015, China had almost four times as many people aged 20 to 39 as Indonesia and the Philippines did combined; by 2040, it is projected to have only twice as many. Both Indonesia and the Philippines are likely to come into increasing confrontation with an expansionist China, and as they do, they may discover an interest in deeper security cooperation with the United States.

Indonesia and the Philippines, however, pale in comparison to India. India is on track to overtake China as the world’s most populous country within the next decade, and by 2040, India’s working-age population may exceed China’s by 200 million. India’s population will still be growing in 2040, when China’s will be in rapid decline. By that time, about 24 percent of China’s population will be over 65, compared with around 12 percent of India’s. India has its own demographic and human resource problems—compared with China, it still has poor public health indicators, low average educational attainment, and egregiously high levels of illiteracy. Despite years of attempted reforms, India still ranks 130th out of 186 countries on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. Yet by 2040, India may have a larger pool of highly educated workers aged 20 to 49 than China, and its advantage will be increasing with every year. The United States and India have already begun defense cooperation in the interest of countering China; American leaders should make it a priority to deepen this partnership in the years ahead.

The United States today has many advantages over its international rivals, thanks in no small part to its favorable demographics. Yet U.S. power cannot be taken for granted. It would be a geopolitical tragedy if the postwar economic and security order that the United States built really were to fade from the scene: no alternative arrangement is likely to promise as much freedom and prosperity to as many people as the U.S.-led international order does today. Thankfully, it is a tragedy that can be averted. If the United States can begin to repair its human capital base and forge new alliances for the twenty-first century, it can strengthen—with the aid of demographics—Pax Americana for generations to come.