Back To CourseSociology 104: World Population
8 chapters | 88 lessons
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
If you've ever been to a major city and even attempted to find a parking space, you've probably noticed that this world is pretty heavily populated. So, it may be a surprise to find out that many industrialized nations, including the United States, are starting to worry about declining fertility, or birthrates. No, it's true - for about the last decade, many nations are seeing their fertility rates go down as fewer and fewer people are having children. Is this good? Is this bad? To find out, how about a quick trip to the future?
Before we examine what this decrease in fertility could mean, let's talk about why it's happening. Although nobody completely agrees on the reason, researchers have identified several factors that seem to have had a big impact. First, are education and employment opportunities for women. As nations make it easier for women to have the same opportunities as men, these women often choose to focus on careers.
This decision is important because in many areas, work and family are incompatible. What I mean is that careers are demanding, and most corporate cultures don't leave a lot of room for family. It's one or the other. When you toss in the fact that the cost of child-raising is increasing while the cost of birth control is decreasing, it's really no surprise that so many people are deciding that careers are going to be a greater priority than having kids. As a result, fertility rates are on the downslide.
Alright, here we are. This is one of the possible futures that people are worried could occur if this trend keeps up. Look at this society. It's full of old people! Disproportionately so. In this future, the majority of the population is elderly, and this means that there is a very heavy financial burden on the government. We've got a lot of people who need Medicaid, Social Security, pensions, and retirement benefits. These people are getting older, so they're going to have health concerns, which means that hospitals have to be ready to provide care. Overall, there is a lot of money that goes into providing for seniors.
Now, obviously we're happy to do it, but when you don't have a large younger generation, who's paying for all of this? Most of our social insurance programs for seniors are paid for by taxes. And this works because you have more people working and paying taxes than you have people who need this welfare. But if this reverses, you've got fewer people paying taxes and that money gets stretched pretty thin.
How about a glimpse of a different future? In this future, our economy has grinded almost to a halt. Why? Because fertility rates dropped too low. You see, most economists agree that a steadily growing population is better for the economy. You create more consumers, who grow into producers that make more products, and the economy grows. Maintaining a younger workforce helps promote healthy economic competition since new ideas are always flowing in.
Also, younger workers tend to be more adaptable, which again leads to new ideas and new solutions. Not to mention, having a larger younger generation means that the older workforce can move up the ladder. Experienced workers are promoted to managers as younger workers arrive. Overall, maintaining a certain level of fertility ensures that there are always fresh ideas coming in and that the competition which drives our economy remains strong.
Okay, we've got time for one final glimpse into a future that some people are concerned might occur. Look at this place. What nation is this? Who knows? There are some who worry that if fertility rates are too low to produce a stable working population, the only option is to rely heavily on immigrant labor. Now, this is the USA. We need immigrants; we love immigrants; immigrants are a part of who we are. But, you don't want to rely too much on immigrant labor.
For one, immigrant labor can be unstable. Say that everyone from Studysburg immigrates to the USA because the economy is bad back home. Great, we've got a stable workforce now. But, if the economy in Studysburg is suddenly fixed, all those workers could disappear, and now our economy is in big trouble. That's the concern from a practical standpoint.
There are also those who worry that too much immigration would change our national identity, especially if immigrant laborers are only here to work and not here to stay. Historically, this has never proven to be true, but it is still a concern for some people. Regardless, we see how low fertility rates could end up being a problem. Suddenly those crowded parking lots don't seem so bad after all.
In many industrialized nations around the world, fertility, or birthrates, is declining. This is likely a result of greater education and employment opportunities for women, along with work cultures that don't support family life, high costs of raising a child, and low costs of birth control.
Declining fertility rates could have some serious implications. For one, a small younger generation would mean that there are fewer taxpayers to fund the welfare that governments provide for seniors. Also, having fewer young people can hurt economic stability since there are fewer new ideas and less competition.
Finally, some people worry that we will have to rely too heavily on immigrant labor, which can be unstable since this labor force may leave at any point. Overall, the declining fertility rate has got many people nervous. Are these worries about the future accurate? Only time will tell.
|Fertility||birthrates for an area, community or country|
|Reasons for decline||education and employment of women, cost prohibitive to raise children, cheaper birth control|
|Problems caused||financing of senior care, lower employment less tax revenue, fewer consumers slows economy, and over reliance on immigrant labor|
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Back To CourseSociology 104: World Population
8 chapters | 88 lessons