I’ve been talking about falling off a fiscal cliff in many previous posts, and while overgenerous public employee pay and benefits feed into that, a lot of the “cause” was a jumping off of the fertility cliff before that.
I wrote about this before, comparing the age distributions, putting in some assumptions about fertility and mortality trends, and projecting them forward to 2050.
Here’s Greece in 2050:
Talk about an upside-down distribution. And Italy is definitely heading in the same direction.
Now, Walter Russell Mead is making the argument that a lot of the Italian government’s policies are a driver for their super-low fertility, and that may be true. I’m not sure.
I highly doubt those of Italian descent living in the U.S. have such a low fertility rate, but—let’s think about this. The people who came to the U.S. voluntarily are different from the people who stayed in the Old Country.
That said, there have been times in history with vastly fluctuating fertility rates, for a variety of reasons. As an example, the Spartan system made for a relatively low birth rate, and they ultimately withered away in numbers due to how difficult they made it for a Spartan citizen to have a family. Sparta had wealth requirements to maintain citizenship, and it punished any trade activity (your wealth had to come from your land, which was obviously limited in amount.) Oh, and you couldn’t get married as a man until you were in your 30s—usually, due to armed service requirements. Contrast this to Athens, which had no wealth requirement to be a part of the demos, and was very pro-trade. There was nothing preventing a young man from getting married, per se.
Now, Sparta did win over Athens in the Peloponnesian Wars, but that hegemony didn’t last: the Macedonians came in, and, more to the point, the Spartans could barely keep their numbers going due to a socio-political system that prevented family formation.
The future belongs to those who show up.
The U.S. as a whole is not doing too poorly on that score, with a fertility rate that’s about at replacement rate (for now). Yet many of the countries that are supposedly going to yank away American hegemony have below-replacement rates. Take a look at this animation to see how this has developed over the past several decades.
Replacement fertility rate is about 2.1 (average number of births per woman) in developed countries (because there is less childhood mortality—the higher the childhood mortality, of course, the higher the “replacement rate” has to be).
Fertility rates of selected countries (2009):
Italy is below replacement rate, but Japan and Germany are even lower. There is a reason that Japan keeps working on robots, and the German retirement system has the highest retirement ages in the EU, to match the fact that it has one of the lowest fertility rates. (Note that they pushed that age up to match the Social Security normal retirement age for the same, post-Boomer group—to age 67).
In 2005, only 685,000 babies were born in Germany, while 830,000 people died. Germany has a birthrate of 1.36 per woman, one of the lowest in Europe.
You don’t need to be an actuary to see that bodes ill for Germany.
While Mark Steyn has been pushing the “Demography Is Destiny” line for years, at least with respect to Islam, there’s more than just that going on. Europe has had massive population collapses before, in one case falling into a Dark Age after the fall of the Roman Empire (which was accompanied by population declines), but also during the Black Death, which hit even harder. And what came after the Black Death (though not immediately) was the Renaissance.
So it’s possible that Europe will once again be a phoenix, with population collapse making them shed governance and public finance models that didn’t work. Or it may be that Europeans will be replaced by populations moving in from Asia and Africa. Who knows? I wouldn’t bet either way.
However, I’m betting the transition to either outcome will be very unpleasant for the current European population.