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PRI’s 1999 Congressional Briefing: Experts Warn of Social and Economic Consequences of Depopulation


The Population Research Institute hosted its annual Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill on 9 March 1999. The briefing, entitled “The Social and Economic Consequences of Depopulation” was led by PRI President Steven W. Mosher and featured Social Security expert W. Patrick Cunningham, East Asia specialist Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt and journalist Mindy Belz.

Speakers at the two-hour briefing struck upon the theme that declining fertility rates, combined with aging populations, will have potentially catastrophic economic and social consequences in both the developed and developing world within the next few decades.

“Next year, for the first time in history, people over 60 will outnumber children 14 or younger in industrial countries,” said Mosher in his introductory remarks. Developed countries will find it difficult to keep pension funds afloat and to maintain economic vitality, he added, and in underdeveloped countries, where stalling birthrates undercut economic development, the situation will be even worse.

“The developed world grew rich before it grew old,” Mosher said. “The less developed world, thanks to overly aggressive population control programs, is growing old before it grows rich.”

Mosher provided statistics showing that Europe’s population will peak at about 730 million by the year 2000, then begin a sharp decline.1 By 2050, Europe’s population could plummet to as low as 370 million, and to l50 million by 2100. America’s population will likely peak at 300 million by 2020, before it begins to decline.2 The low birthrate in the US is already beginning to have an economic impact.

‘Babying’ Social Security

W. Patrick Cunningham, a Social Security expert and researcher for the insurance industry, introduced a proposal to restore solvency to the US Social Security system. Social Security simply needs more workers paying into the system, Cunningham said. The only long-term solution “is to make it easier for parents to decide to have more children.”

With data borrowed from a “much ignored” section of the annual [Social Security] Trustees report, Cunningham demonstrated that increasing the American birthrate from the current 1.98 children per woman to 3.6 would eventually restore solvency to Social Security.

Cunningham’s modest proposal included a provision for families who raise more children to receive slightly more benefits than is currently promised. Those raising fewer would receive slightly less.

Focus on Asia

Nicholas Eberstadt, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Harvard University’s Center for Population and Developmental Studies, said that over the next 20 years, “Asia will experience rapid, indeed unprecedented, population aging, a very sudden and striking decline in manpower availability .…”

Eberstadt predicted that Asia’s aging population will impact both rich and poor countries alike. In Japan, for example, which has a pay-as-you-go national Social Security system, either sky-rocketing social security taxes or plummeting benefits for older persons will most likely arise.

In China, where the social security system is known as the family, even greater problems in caring for the elderly will occur. Given that an estimated one- quarter of China’s rural parents will have no surviving son, Eberstadt queried: “How will those parents be supported?”

East Asia’s declining labor force will put pressure on savings and investments, and force richer countries to import workers, he added. Japan will feel this worker shortage acutely because historically Japan “has been unreceptive to foreigners.”

In East Asia, aggressive population control and selective birthing has created a new problem: bride scarcity. According to Eberstadt, this shortage of brides is potentially “a social wild card” since there is no oriental tradition of “honorable bachelorhood or spinsterhood.” The problem of a bride shortage is most pronounced in China, where the government estimates that there will be 20 million young men who will be unable to find brides in years to come.3

National Sovereignty

Mindy Belz, a journalist for World magazine, briefed the audience on her trip to Kenya last February. Kenya now has a “two-child policy,” and the British organization Marie Stopes is leading an effort there to restrict family size with abortion. Marie Stopes uses “enticing come-ons promoting ‘maternal health’ and ‘comprehensive family planning,’” she said. Although AIDS is a major problem in Kenya (one in 10 Kenyans currently is dying from that disease), population control organizations, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank, have concentrated their forces mainly on efforts to reduce the fertility rates.

The attempts of international organizations to press for abortion in Kenya, where it is illegal, threaten that nation’s national sovereignty, she said. Yet population control organizations have launched an aggressive campaign of abortion, sterilization and contraception, to decrease natural fertility rates from 3 to 4 children per woman to a target of 2.5 by 2010.

Belz cited instances of social chaos in Kenya, such as rampant governmental corruption and a total lack of basic services. She said that an estimated 300,000 children have either no place to go for school or are unable to pay for it. One Kenyan doctor, she reported, said that “reproductive health care is practically the only kind of health care available in this country.”

New Bill Expected

The Congressional Briefing also provided an occasion for Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-16-PA) to announce that he will again “seek to transfer $100 million from population control to child survival” this legislative session.

Congressman Pitts shared a story of a Kenyan doctor who testified that “thousands of Kenyans will die of malaria, the treatment of which costs only a few cents, while health facilities are stacked with millions of dollars worth of pills, IUDs, Norplant and Depo-provera, most of which are supplied with American dollars.”

Congressman Pitts attempted last year to shift USAID population control funds to child survival programs, in the form of an amendment to the foreign operations appropriations budget. The amendment failed, but congressional resolve to curb inefficient population control spending has grown. Meanwhile, as more information about ineffective population control spending comes to light on Capitol Hill, PRI’s latest publication, “Money for Nothing” demonstrates how population control in general has outlived its usefulness.4

1 United Nations Secretariat, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision. Volume 1: Comprehensive Tables. November 24, 1998, 36-45. (The “low variant” projection is used because history has shown it to be the most accurate.)

2 Ibid., 413.

3 Sarah Dateno, “From the Countries,” PRI Review, February/March 1999.

4 Population Research Institute, Money for Nothing: Why the United States should not resume UNFPA funding. (PRI Policy Backgrounder, April 2, 1999) 6-7.

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