On declining fertility rates in developed countries

“to increase in number and make our cities more populous, would it not seem absurd, the cause of the evil being evident and the remedy being in our own hands?º 7 For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew. For any ordinary man will tell you that the most effectual cure had to be men’s own action, in either striving after other objects, or if not, in passing laws making it compulsory to rear children. ”

Not one day goes by without there being published a story on global warming. The principal culprits are the developed countries, i.e., America, Western Europe and Japan, but the ever-increasing number of studies indicate that it is the poor countries that will bear the brunt of the climatic changes, e.g., Bangladesh. Thus, it can be said that the industrialized countries will manage, more or less, in the new world that is fast unfolding. Yet these countries along with the ex-Soviet countries, face a unique problem: an aging population.

All 27 member-countries of the European Union have fertility rates below 2.1 — this being the replacement level which stabilizes a population. In countries were the population is increasing — of the rich western nations — the increase lies in the higher fertility rates of immigrants. For example, in the UK half of the children born are to immigrant parents.

Japan is a perfect example of the demographic crisis faced by the aforementioned nations.

There is also Italy, a country famous for its big families.

But while the United Nations would like to think this is a new phenomenon, history seems to indicate otherwise.

Tacitus informs us in his Annals of the different reforms paternal Augustus instituted to reestablish the old Roman character in the now-turned decadent and worldly Romans of the Principate. Parts of the promulgation of traditional values included laws to deal with the declining population.
—Childless citizens were unable to bequeath their properties, they became part of the state. The expected outcome would be an increase in marriages and consequently population. However, though the much-maligned Tiberius continued the government’s policy of restoring the purported Roman gravitas, it came to no avail.

So what is it about rich and developed nations, for we must assume that Rome as developed vis-à-vis its circumscribing nations, that brings about a shift in demographics?

The poor nations around the world do not seem to face this aging problem. Though they are impoverished and starved for the resources readily available to those in the developed nations, they multiply like … er … how does the platitude go? ah yes like rabbits; the ‘breeding like Catholics’ no longer seems apt, cf. Italy. Their multiplying populations are characteristic of agricultural and developing nations, one needn’t look back far into European history to see this.

It would seem that the reason for the lack of fertility in developed nations lies in different priorities. While in poor countries, more people are a plus because they can help with labor, not so in developed nations. In these, the drive is towards the accumulation of luxuries — those superfluous goods that have no necessary value but that of being desirable. The pursuit of these items is what ultimately being developed means

These goods are expensive but because they are prioritized, we must ultimately sacrifice other things, e.g., child rearing. A perfect example is gay couples. They are more oft than not said to be better off than their counterpart heterosexual couples. By ‘better off’ we must understand to mean ‘own more luxury goods’. And they are able to acquire these because they do not have to invest in offspring. Meanwhile, the heterosexual couples with children, must allocate a substantial amount of their resource into these.

So the countries with aging populations are implementing a plethora of incentives to induce people to have more children. Not only is the solution absurd but superficial. Government incentives that make child-rearing more appealing does not really deal with the real issues: the inherent struggle for the allocation of resources within a developed society. As mentioned above, these societies are geared towards the accumulation of luxury goods. The solution would be to change the priorities, but then that would entail a move away from the accumulation of these superfluous goods that supposedly make our lives better. Of course this would never happen. The solution to global warming is to change the way we live our lives (those of us in the developed countries) but we rather not. THen again, this is not shocking, the nature of democracies is to not deal with problems until they are absolutely necessary. So politicians carry out reforms which is nothing more than a temporary fix that does not address the real problem once and for good.

By increase the number of child day care centres (as well as the number of affordable one), in effect by helping to subsidize child-rearing, the state is prevaricating. The ferlity rates will be maintained not by the natives of these aging countries but by foreigners, who tend to have more children because they come from less-well-off countries, traditionally. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the issue (and I italicize this because I don’t see how less people, especially those that do the most damage to the planet thanks to their lifestyles is an issue at all!) is more dramatic in Japan, a nation that is for the most part homogeneous. They don’t have that continuous influx of immigrants and their larger families to maintain an adequate fertility rate.

In the end, the policies instituted by August and his successor failed. The policies implemented in our time will also fail. Perhaps, unwittingly, the nations that are to blame for global warming will provide the best solution yet. Hopefully, it won’t be too late!

The nations facing rapidly aging populations would be served to heed the observations of Polybius: