New Baby Boom “a Healthy Trend”?!?!

March 19, 2009

There’s been numerous reports in the media in the last couple of days about the fact that the number of births rose to a record of more than 4.3 million in 2006.  It’s not terribly surprising that this surpasses the record levels of the baby boom years in the ’50s, since our population is twice as high.  Thankfully, the fertility rate, the number of children per female, has plummeted since then.

But this linked article stands out in need of comment, since it perpetuates some misconceptions about population growth.  For example:

_The U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend.

“Healthy?”  How is this a healthy trend?  As worsening overpopulation drives up unemployment and poverty, increases the strain on dwindling resources and exacerbates global warming, how can anyone possibly consider this a “healthy trend?”

The new numbers suggest the second year of a baby boomlet, with U.S. fertility rates higher in every racial group, the highest among Hispanic women. On average, a U.S. woman has 2.1 babies in her lifetime. That’s the “magic number” required for a population to replace itself.

While 2.1 children per female may be the rate needed for a generation (not a “population”) to replace itself, that level will assure further worsening of overpopulation due to steady rises in life expectancy.  A rate of approximately 1.8 is required to counteract the increase in life span and stabilize the population. 

Countries with much lower rates — such as Japan and Italy — face future labor shortages and eroding tax bases as they fail to reproduce enough to take care of their aging elders.

This notion that an ever-growing population is needed to avoid “future labor shortages” and to support “aging elders” may be the most harmful misconception of all, as it buttresses the arguments of economists that population growth is an essential ingredient for a healthy economy when, in fact, the truth is just the opposite.  To suggest that places like Japan and Europe, so badly overpopulated that they are utterly dependent on exports to support their excess labor supplies, will face “labor shortages” is preposterous in the extreme.  And the argument that bigger generations are needed to support aging elders defies even the simplest train of logic.  Since it’s impossible for population growth to continue indefinitely, it will obviously be more difficult to make the transition to a stable population when conditions have grown so bad that further growth is impossible.  It only makes sense to make that transition right now, while the size of the elder population is lower than it will ever be if we don’t act.

The author of this report, an AP medical writer, should stick to medicine and leave the economics of population growth to those of us with the courage and sense to think through the ramifications.