Multiple factors to blame for global fertility decline

Though there are several factors, the leading cause of global aging, experts say, is the fact that people are having fewer children. 

“The overwhelming aging population is because of the decline in birth rates,” said Phillip Longman, a demographer and senior researcher at the New America Foundation’s Health Policy Program. 

Longman, author of “The Empty Cradle, How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity (And What To Do About It)” (Basic Books, $26), told Our Sunday Visitor that there is no single theory that fully explains fertility decline across the globe. 

“Probably the biggest, surest mega-trend at work today is urbanization, this mass movement of populations from the countryside into the cities. When that happens, the economics of having children and raising families changes dramatically,” said Longman, who suggested that modern city life tends to view children as economic liabilities rather than assets.

Abortion, contraception

Widespread use of contraception and family planning programs that push birth control is a “mixed picture,” he said. 

“We have some countries like India in the 1970s that went on very aggressive population control measures, including forced sterilization and putting out all kinds of contraception and abortion on demand. Then countries like Brazil did none of that, yet look at those countries today. Brazil has a lower birth rate (1.8 children per woman) than India (2.6 children),” Longman said. 

Phillip Longman, demographer and senior researcher

However, Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, attributes abortion as a main factor in the aging and depopulation trends being seen worldwide. 

“We wouldn’t be talking about the looming Social Security cliff, the fiscal cliff, the student loan cliff, the entitlement cliff if we had 30 million to 40 million Americans alive right now,” Mosher said, referring to those who have been aborted since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973. 

A healthy fertility rate above replacement — which is above 2.1 in developed countries but can be higher in developing countries because of higher mortality rates — is closely linked with population growth, which Mosher said is a driver of economic growth. 

“It causes people to invent new ways of producing goods, it causes them to dig irrigation canals. In ancient Egypt, (growth) caused people to create cities,” Mosher said. “Population decline on the other hand has always been associated with societal collapse. The Greeks stopped having kids 300 to 400 years before the birth of Christ, and they were conquered by Rome. 

“When people lose interest in providing for the future in the most fundamental way, by providing the next generation, they are not long for this world, and they are going to be consigned to a footnote in the history books,” he said.

Marriage’s decline

Until recent years, the United States had a fertility rate higher than most developed countries, but that rate has dropped below replacement — 2.1 children — in recent years because of the recession and fewer numbers of immigrants — who tend to have more children — entering the country. 

“It looks like American women are choosing to have fewer children, and that’s controversial. We don’t know if that is permanent or not,” said Dr. Susan Yoshihara. 

“We need to be fostering better awareness of our demographic advantage,” Yoshihara said, adding that marriage also plays a critical role in assuring healthy fertility rates. Fewer people are getting married and having children. Almost half of births in the United States are out of wedlock, but that is not always conducive to stable families that raise productive citizens who will contribute to the country’s growth and economic and social well-being. 

“If you want to tie it to one thing, you can tie it back to marriage and the flight from marriage,” Yoshihara said.

 Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.