Demography is Destiny

Demography is Destiny

As the insolvency of Greece rocks the financial underpinning of the world (with countries like Spain and Portugal not far behind) one has to wonder whether or not individuals who control the politics and the purse strings of a country are at all familiar with the old cliché “demography is destiny.”  Certainly poor financial controls and poor monetary policy on the part of these nearly bankrupt countries is the primary culprit.  But there is another “contributing” factor here—a very big one:  loss of population, the young not replacing the old.

Greece with a total fertility rate of 1.37 is simply not producing enough children to support the cradle to grave entitlement system nor to shore up its sagging economy.  Greece is certainly not alone in this predicament.  Replacement rate for a population is a TFR of 2.1 (2.1 children per man and woman)

Total Fertility Rates (TFR)

United Kingdom  1.66

Portugal               1.49

Austria                  1.42

Russia                   1.34

Spain                     1.31

Japan                    1.27

Czech Rep.          1.24

South Korea       1.21

Hong Kong          0.97

Virtually the entire continent of Europe has below replacement level fertility rates.  The United States has a TFR that hovers around 2.05.   It is estimated that without immigration, the U.S. fertility rate would be 1.7.

Here’s a sobering statistic.  Demographers will tell you that a country with a total fertility rate of 1.4 will lose one-third of its population every generation.  So what do demographers consider to be a generation?  Depending upon the culture and the age upon which they begin child bearing, a generation on average is considered to be about 27 years.  I’m not great at math, but let me try this.  Greece’s 2008 population is listed as 11,237,094.

Generation 1             11,237,094  –  3,745,698 = 7,491,396

Generation 2              7,491,396   –  2,497,132 =  4,994,264

Generation 3              4,994,264   – 1,664,755  =  3,329,509

There are plenty of people in the “humans are destroying the planet” camp who might cheer such calculations, but any clear thinking person ought to realize the frightening ramifications of such dramatic population decline.

Although Greece in recent years has attempted various schemes to encourage their citizens to have more children (paying extra cash to families to bear children, reducing their tax burdens, etc.) none of these programs have been successful.  As one high ranking government official shockingly acknowledged “the group of people that were bearing the ‘subsidized children’ was not the demographic we had hoped for.  So we discontinued the program.”  Leaving discussion of that comment for another blog post, suffice it to say Greece’s programs to increase child bearing (like similar initiatives in Japan and Russia) have been unsuccessful.

One last demographic tidbit:  in world history to date there has never been a country or civilization whose total fertility rate fell below 1.4 that ever restored itself—a TFR of 1.4 seems to be the point of no return.  Demography is destiny.

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