When Slate Magazine starts recognizing the reality of a falling population, perhaps things are finally getting through. About That Overpopulation Problem digs into arguments that Wendy and I have been blogging and writing about for years. The article explores a specific angle at the issue that I have found fascinating. Let’s explore this.
The article reanalyzes the clarion call of the past 50-or-so years. “Overpopulation” has been assumed by the world, prospective parents especially, molding a culture that assumes responsible people would choose not to have children. Wendy and I push against that assumption by emphasizing that children are blessings from God. Why not have children? (See our book Love Another Child.)
One of our arguments is trying to get people to realize that a shrinking population would be devastating. That’s a tough argument to make when the population is expanding. That’s starting to turn around, as Slate admits:
It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth. That’s longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth—the first time in human history that interval had grown. (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.
Now, I’ve read articles from people who admit that the population bomb isn’t going to be as big as the fear mongers proclaim, but there is a subtle “that’s okay” attitude about it. The assumption remains: a shrinking population would be a good thing. The Slate article, however, pulls few punches. It actually admits that the extinction of the human race could be a viable reality in the future, and they admit it’s simple math:
According to a 2008 IIASA report, if the world stabilizes at a total fertility rate of 1.5—where Europe is today—then by 2200 the global population will fall to half of what it is today. By 2300, it’ll barely scratch 1 billion. (The authors of the report tell me that in the years since the initial publication, some details have changed—Europe’s population is falling faster than was previously anticipated, while Africa’s birthrate is declining more slowly—but the overall outlook is the same.) Extend the trend line, and within a few dozen generations you’re talking about a global population small enough to fit in a nursing home.
Now here’s the interesting admission from the Slate article that I find fascinating, something that one of the professors in a Huffington Post interview I did last month: the education of girls shrinks birthrates. Forget one-child policies, forced sterilization or creepy eugenics. All you have to do is send girls to school and they’ll stop having children.
The reason for the implacability of demographic transition can be expressed in one word: education. One of the first things that countries do when they start to develop is educate their young people, including girls. That dramatically improves the size and quality of the workforce. But it also introduces an opportunity cost for having babies. “Women with more schooling tend to have fewer children,” says William Butz, a senior research scholar at IIASA.
This begs the question: what are they teaching the girls? Oh my, this is a whirlwind of a discussion that – as a teacher – I find absolutely fascinating. It digs deep into my fundamental pedagogical beliefs that should be on the minds of all parents. Modern schools don’t really “educate,” they “indoctrinate.” Schools proselytize young minds to become good workers. Not thinkers, creators, leaders. They are taught from an early age that true achievement in life is being the best employee possible.
The author, while not admitting this to be a regret, admits that he and his wife are the norm:
In developed countries, childrearing has become a lifestyle option tailored to each couple’s preferences. Maximizing fertility is rarely a priority. My wife and I are a case in point. I’m 46, she’s 39, and we have two toddlers. We waited about as long to have kids as we feasibly could because we were invested in building our careers and, frankly, enjoying all the experiences that those careers let us have. If wanted to pop out another ankle-biter right now, our aging bodies might just allow us to do so. But we have no intention of trying. As much as we adore our little guys, they’re a lot of work and frighteningly expensive. Most of our friends have just one or two kids, too, and like us they regard the prospect of having three or four kids the way most people look at ultramarathoning or transoceanic sailing—admirable pursuits, but only for the very committed.
When you really take in the reality of such a culture, it becomes almost overwhelming. If we continue this “educated” course, we’re doomed. We’ll slip into extinction and witness the devastation of the human race. It’s good to read Slate and see that some are realizing this, but they need to embrace a rethinking of what they believe to be educated thought.