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US Census Report Reveals Benefits of Population Growth

January 7, 2000

Volume 2/ Number 1

Dear Friend and Colleague:

The US Census Bureau’s special Compendium for the Millennium notes a prosperous past 100 years, but raises concerns about our future because of America’s rapidly falling birthrate.

Steven W. Mosher


US Census Report Reveals Benefits of Population Growth

POPULATION RESEARCH INSTITUTE — America’s greatest resource is her people. This belief is enshrined in our founding documents, in which human life, in all its abundance, is affirmed as the first inalienable right. This belief is moreover demonstrated by our history. From a scant 3 million colonists scattered along the Eastern Seaboard of North America, we have grown to 270 million today. And with that great increase in population has come a cornucopia of prosperity.

Comparing the America of 1900 with the America of 2000, as the US Census Bureau has recently done, confirms the link between population and prosperity (US Census Bureau, “1999 US Census Bureau Statistical Abstract: Compendium for the Millennium,” December 1999). At the turn of the last century, the US had a population of 76 million, the average life span was 47, and Standard and Poor’s composite index was 6.2.

As our population boomed over the past century, so did life-spans, scientific innovation and entrepreneurial activity. Today America numbers 270 million, the average life span is 77, and the Standard and Poor Index has reached 1,430, some 231 times its mark a century before.

Entering the new millennium, the US Census Bureau report makes clear, America has never been so populous, productive and healthy. America’s farmland, thanks to the ingenuity of tens of thousands of scientists and the hard work of millions of farmers, continues to set records in yield per acre and total yield. New scientific discoveries have paved the way for longer, healthier lives, and have helped cut death rates in half from 17.2 people per 1,000 per year in 1900, to 8.60 per 1,000 per year in 1997.

At the same time, however, American family size has shrunk from 4.8 persons at the turn of the century to a remarkably low 2.6 persons in 1996. Declining birthrates and increasing life expectancies have combined to propel the average age of the population upward. The percentage of Americans aged 65 and over is rapidly increasing, and will grow from its current 16.5% to 24.3% by 2020. By 2050 America will be much grayer, with fully one-third of the entire population over 60 years of age.

The most troubling portent for America’s future is our rapidly falling birthrate. We are no longer having enough children to replace ourselves. For the first time in American history, our nation is faced with the very real prospect of population decline.

By 2020, the Total Fertility Rate–the average number of children born per woman–is projected to decline to only 1.5 (1998 UN Revision, World Population Prospects, 413 [low variant projection]). As a result of these unprecedently low fertility rates, America’s population is projected to begin declining about 2030. Scarcely noticeable at first, the decline will accelerate in subsequent decades.

Those who argue that a demographic decline will not necessarily lead to a social and economic implosion ought to visit dying Europe, where the most vibrant sector of the economy deals with death. The mortuaries and cemeteries are doing a booming business, while the maternity wards and the preschools stand empty.

As the new century dawns, Americans are faced with a historical choice. Will we remain open to a further increase in our numbers–an infusion of new blood, if you will–or will we condemn ourselves to a gray and declining future? If we conclude (with Pogo and the anti-people ideologues), that “We have met the enemy and he is us,” then our future decline as a people seems inevitable. Those who read history, however, will reach a different conclusion: For America’s people have always been her greatest asset.

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