Monday, December 13, 2004

Religion and fertility

Phillip Longman author of The Empty Cradle sees a future where the religious end up outbreeding the secular:

Rapid aging followed by depopulation on a scale not seen since the collapse of the Roman Empire threatens the modern world, writes Phillip Longman, an American journalist. Buried inside his book is the startling forecast that America's evangelical Christians will breed themselves into a position of global dominance. That idea horrifies Longman, who spends most of his pages hatching schemes to prevent this from happening.

In Longman's view, modernity itself is to blame for the population debacle. "Those who reject modernity," he argues, "seem to have an evolutionary advantage, whether they are clean-living Mormons, or Muslims who remain committed to large families."

Having looked into the abyss, Longman proposes to save modernity from itself through tax incentives favoring larger families, an unconvincing approach. But he at least has taken the trouble to notice that modernity is consuming itself. A few sound bites give the gist:

Germany could easily lose the equivalent of the current population of East Germany over the next half-century. Russia's population is already decreasing by three-quarters of a million a year. Japan's population meanwhile is expected to fall by as much as one-third.

By mid-[21st]-century, China could easily be losing 20-30% of its population per generation.

Fertility rates are falling faster in the Middle East than anywhere else on Earth, and as a result the region's population is aging at an unprecedented rate. It took 50 years for the United States to go from a median age of 30 to today's 35. By contrast, during the first 50 years of the 21st century, Algeria will increase its median age from 21.7 to 40.

With deaths exceeding births by well over half, current projections show Russian population will fall by 29% by 2050.

Longman cannot make up his mind as to whether economic disincentives or existential despair account for collapsing birthrates. He offers an economic explanation as follows: In traditional society children were an asset, a source of cheap farm labor in the present and the equivalent of a pension later on. In the modern world, children are a cost. Because parents and non-parents both will receive pensions paid by the next generation, no individual has an incentive to make sacrifices to bring the next generation into the world. In the absence of economic incentives to reproduce, "Faith is increasingly necessary as a motive to have children."


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