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age gaps

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(I wrote the following as a comment to an article lamenting the decline in fertility in the developed countries. Like many respondents, I’m not convinced it is a problem. Other comments have noted that attempts by countries such as Germany to import skills have been a failure: the immigrants tend to use more resources from the social system than any benefit they brought in – which is not an anti-immigrant opinion, just a demographic fact. I’m an immigrant, after all!)

Isn’t it a basic point that any given country or region is limited in the number of people it can support? NB: by “support” I’m factoring in everything, including politics & aid – factors that will change the numbers, drastically, but don’t invalidate my basic point. When the land can not support the people, they will starve, or leave; as this point is neared, costs soar, and people can’t afford to have large families any more. I see this here in Dublin, too – one colleague of mine is being so badly hammered by the care costs, for his one (1) child, that a second is out of the question, unless they move to a cheaper country (ideally where the in-laws are).

My take on this: in any mature society, the population will stabilize, because some resources are fundamentally limited – such as land to build houses on. A country like Japan has gone just about as far as it can down this road. Yes, the balance is currently on the side of the elderly, and the young are bearing the burden of caring for them, but is that the way it’s always going to be? To be blunt: more of the Baby Boomer elderly will die per year than normal, which means the resources they use (esp. property) is freed up more quickly, restoring the balance eventually.

So, in a stable society the supported numbers are stable, and the population can adapt to them, eventually. (Oversimplification, I know!) In an unstable society, the number of people a country can support can change suddenly, due to factors beyond the control of the people. Zimbabwe is a great example: people are starving because of recent politics, not because of poor land or lack of natural resources, and there is hope that that can be reversed.

But in other parts of Africa, where countries & regions have been poor for generations, I would say the supported population is stable at a level well below the actual population. I really do not understand why women continue to have large numbers of children – or why men continue to force repeated pregnancy on women. They KNOW most of the children will die, but they still have them, and we get badgered by charities to “save the children”!

I think we don’t need more people: we need better people, which means dedicating more resources to each of them. Which means lower fertility is a good thing, in my opinion.


Written by brian t

August 18, 2006 at 5:08 pm

Posted in culture, economics, politics

One Response

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  1. It seems you answered your question in the next sentence:

    “I really do not understand why women continue to have large numbers of children – or why men continue to force repeated pregnancy on women. They KNOW most of the children will die, …”

    I don’t keep up with this topic, but it sounds like people in the developed world fear for their way of life, even though they themselves aren’t going to be around to enjoy it. Crazy. The psuedo-science of economics tells believers that there’s virtually no limit to the numbers the planet can support because in a free system, people will (magically) come up with the proper goods and services to sustain a population of whatever number.

    In my opinion the shape the world is in now is directly attributable to population pressures. That makes me a neo-Malthusian and very much out of vogue with today’s mainstream thought on such things.


    August 20, 2006 at 7:20 pm

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