“Demographic explosion“, “demographic bomb”, “demographic winter”, “demographic sangria”, “demographic suicide”, “decrepit society”, “population decadence”, “gerontocracy”, “clash of generations”, “fertility under minimums”… Are There Too Many Of Us? (Part I)
Expressions like these have become currency of change in contemporary politics and economy, and have become part of the collective imaginary. But there is a problem: they have nothing to do with reality.
“We are fed up with the use of demography for other purposes, with recreational demography without the voice of experts”, says Andreu Domingo, researcher at the Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics, located in Bellaterra, and coordinator of a book eloquently entitled ‘Demography and Post-Truth’ (Icaria, 2018).
“Tertullian demography has too much of a voice in the media: they don’t understand anything, but they are superb enough to predict catastrophes and disaster scenarios”, says Teresa Castro, from the CSIC’s Centre for Human and Social Sciences in Madrid.
- Worrying Opinions
- Falsehood Number One
- “We are too many inhabitants for the survival of the Earth.”
- 11 Billion In 2100
- Falsehood Number Two
- “Ageing makes pensions unsustainable”
- Ageing And Creativity
- More Studies And Productivity
- Falsehood Number Three
- “We have no children out of pure selfishness.”
- “Decline Of The West”
- No Collapse
1. Worrying Opinions
The misuse of demography has to do with the erosion of expert prestige, post-truth and media preferences for the most grotesque opinions, according to Domingo.
But it is also due to the fact that demography has always been the science of the State, a tool for governing populations.
There are interests of all kinds,” adds the expert. Politicians who promote austerity; insurance companies and banks with interests in private pensions that promote the fear of aging; conservatives who miss the traditional family with women at home. “Political and economic problems are diverted to demography, appealing to patriotism,” the specialist reflects.
Demography speaks of births, deaths, displacements and the formation of families: the emotional burden of these events is evident. And there are those who take advantage of it.
Nor does it help that there is no university degree in demography and that this is not studied, for example, in history courses.
The most worrying thing is that the pseudo-demographers, grouped into organisations such as the conservative Fundación Renacimiento Demográfico or the Instituto de Política Familiar, have paraded before the Toledo Pact or the Permanent Commission for the Demographic Challenge.
Pseudo-demographic myths have prompted nonsensical initiatives such as a 10,000 euro baby check in Singapore, Conception Day in Russia, Fertility Day in Italy, and the threat of a campaign in Spain in 2017 to teach women about the need to have children.
For demographers the glass is full, and they have gone out to knock down falsehoods.
2. Falsehood Number One
“We are too many inhabitants for the survival of the Earth.”
Humanity has grown unprecedentedly in the last 200 years. Between 1950 and 2017 alone, the world population grew from 2.5 billion to 7.5 billion.
As early as 1798, Thomas Malthus warned of the risk of such a demographic bomb in the Population Principle Essay.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich proclaimed in The Population Bomb that “the battle to feed humanity is lost”.
The reality is that none of these grim prophecies have been fulfilled.
Between 1960 and 2010, per capita food production increased by 40 per cent, thanks in large part to technological advances such as the green revolution, which led to a remarkable increase in agricultural productivity.
“The problem is not the availability of food, but its distribution,” explains Domingo.
11 Billion In 2100
Between 1990 and 2012, the population living in extreme poverty (1.68 euros per day) increased from 37% to 12.7%.
Among other factors, the concentration of the population in cities has made access to many services easier and more sustainable.
World population woññ continue to increase, reaching 11 billion people by 2100. But then it will stabilize and perhaps even shrink.
The reason is that, in the same decades of higher growth, fertility has plummeted. Today, all regions of the world have fertility rates (technically, synthetic fertility rates) of between 2 and 3 children, except in Africa, which is also declining but still between 4 and 5.
“Now Ehrlich’s speech has returned to climate change,” explains Domingo. The Earth could not stand the consumption of so many people.
“But, again, the issue is not population growth, but irresponsible consumption, and how it is distributed,” observes the researcher.
With the decline in fertility, demographics are “doing their homework. Now it’s a matter of politics and economics working.
3. Falsehood Number Two
“Ageing makes pensions unsustainable”
“The population will have […] a large number of old people and relatively small numbers of young people. This phrase, which could appear in any opinion article by a contemporary economist, was actually wrote in 1907.
In the first half of the century, nationalism became obsessed with the problem of old age while fascism exalted their youths.
In 1935, the Catalan scholar Josep Antoni Vandellós published ‘Cataluña, pueblo decadente’.
Wile in the 1940s, the French ultranationalist demographer Alfred Sauvy created the expression “demographic ageing”.
He was obsessed with the fact that Germany threatened France because of its population strength. Gérard François Dumont, a disciple of Sauvy, spoke of the “feast of Cronus”, and Michel Schooyans, a priest from Louvain, is credited with the expression “demographic winter”.
Half a century later, none of the perverse effects of aging became a reality.
On the contrary, demographic ageing has become an increasingly global phenomenon that could be renamed as “mass maturity”.
In addition, when the baby boom generations have died, the number of elders will be drastically reduced.
You can continue reading at: Are There Too Many Of Us? (Part II)