Are There Too Many Of Us? (Part II)

In the previous post we spoke about:

  1. Worrying Opinions
  2. Falsehood Number One
    • “We are too many inhabitants for the survival of the Earth.”
    • 11 Billion In 2100
  3. Falsehood Number Two
    • “Ageing makes pensions unsustainable”

3. Falsehood Number Two

Ageing And Creativity

“There are readings that transfer the characteristics of old age from the individual to society, in the sense that an aging structure would be less creative.

Are There Too Many Of Us (Part II)
Are There Too Many Of Us?

However, Germany is older than Niger and which of the two countries is more innovative,” observes Andreu Domingo.

The fear of old age resurfaced strongly in the 1980s, when conservative U.S. think tanks began to talk about “generational shock.

In the bulls-eye, they said, was the “immoral” social spending to pay pensions and health services to the elderly.

Recently, the director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, assured that the elderly live too long, and a Japanese minister went so far as to ask them to die now.

The underlying message of these speeches is that the pension system and the welfare state are unsustainable due to ageing.

The only salvation, they would say, would be for the private sector to put its hands on items such as pensions or pharmaceutical spending, which can represent almost half of a country’s budget.

In ‘Demografía y posverdad’, demographers Pau Miret and Pilar Zueras dismantle these arguments piece by piece.

In the first place, not only do young people provide services to the elderly, but there are also services in the opposite direction, from care to economic transfers.

More Studies And Productivity


Secondly, the pension system has withstood ageing well, thanks to the incorporation of women into the labour market, which has filled the box with money that did not exist before, and to the fact that the new generations have more education and are more productive than previous generations.

Thanks to ageing, moreover, there are extensive contribution histories, with increasing productivity, which strengthen, rather than weaken, the system.

“The demographic variable is important for the pension system, but the economy has a much greater weight,” notes Teresa Castro. Unemployment, precariousness and low wages are what really threaten the system.

“In Spain you work as a trainee for years and the salaries are so low that there is little or no contribution, due to the model of precarious employment,” explains Castro.

“Of course there is aging, but it is a normal phenomenon, irreversible, slow, gradual and very predictable: we have time to adapt to it,” concludes the researcher.

4. Falsehood Number Three

“We have no children out of pure selfishness.”

Are There Too Many Of Us (Part II)
“In the end, women are blamed for not wanting to have children,” Castro says.

Since 2011, Spain has maintained a fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world.

During the last three decades it has been below 1.5, and it recorded a slight upturn a decade ago that was then truncated by the crisis. Spain shares low fertility levels with Italy, Greece, Portugal, South Korea and Singapore.

At the same time, the average age of first childbearing has risen dramatically, to 30 for women and 34 for men by 2015.

Thus, 30% of births are to women over 35 years of age; 6% of mothers are over 40, and the number of women who will not have children is increasing. Spain is one of the countries that uses assisted fertilization the most and, since 2015, more deaths than births have been registered.

“Decline Of The West”

This painting evokes what in 1918 Ostwald Spengler called the “decadence of the West”. From the most conservative sectors, the low fertility rate is attributed to the “hedonism” and “selfishness” of our society.

There are even those who link these figures to factors ranging from an increase in abortions and divorces to a reduction in marriages.

Another of the ‘scarecrows’ mentioned is the incorporation of women into the labor market.

“Demographics is a kind of diffuse responsibility. Who has the responsibility? In the end, women are blamed for not wanting to have children,” reflects Teresa Castro.

Behind the birth rate alarms, there are also “ideological motivations of people who support traditional family models,” observes Andreu Domingo.

Another focus is nationalism. “Nationalists are obsessed with the number of children. The efforts to increase the birth rate to baby boom levels reveal a cattle-raising view of demographics, which thinks that women have to be like rabbits,” says the researcher.

Indeed, the analysis should be reviewed. First, it’s not so bad that there are more deaths than births.

Germany has been in this situation since 1972. Second, it is not true that, with a (misnamed) “replacement rate” of less than 2.1 children per couple, a population will go extinct.

The synthetic fertility rate is an average at a given time, which groups couples belonging to different generations into the same group. A low rate can rebound, depending on how the youngest behave.

Are There Too Many Of Us (Part II)
Are There Too Many Of Us?

Moreover, if life expectancy is increasing (the famous demographic ageing), a population will not become extinct even if it is below this rate for years.

Moreover, this index is plummeting worldwide, except in Africa, where it has also declined but with less intensity.

This phenomenon is the result of family planning policies, access to contraceptives (which has increased dramatically in recent decades), women’s empowerment and increased education.

“All countries are converging towards the values of what we call a complex system of reproduction,” says Domingo. In this system, population growth depends more on immigration than on births.

This process goes through several phases. At first, mortality (especially infant mortality) decreases due to improvements in the medical system.

This leads to a demographic explosion, as the birth rate remains high but many more people survive. Finally, there is a decline in fertility.

You can continue reading at: Are There Too Many Of Us? (Part III)