Demographic Doom
Why the World is Falling Apart

A Philosophy Project by Glenn Campbell

The page below is no longer maintained but is retained for whatever value it may contain.

Key Findings

On this page: The Big Picture | Population Implosion | Population Explosion | Debt & Economic Collapse | Future Families | Talent Migration | Population Quality | Complexity

Here are some of my key conclusions about demography and the future of the human race. On this page, no attempt is made to substantiate these claims, which will be addressed elsewhere.

The Big Picture

  1. The Population Explosion is a thing of the past. "Population Implosion" is a more accurate description of the coming world. Within the current century, most national populations will fall, seemingly without end.

  2. The number of babies an average woman produces in her lifetime is called a community's fertility rate. To sustain a population over time, each woman must produce an average of 2.1 live births over her lifetime, which is called replacement fertility.

  3. Now that parenthood is optional and women are free to pursue the own careers, many are foregoing or delaying parenthood. Even among those who do have children, few are prepared to have more than two. Given the many who choose to have none, there are insufficient total babies to sustain the population.

  4. Only a handful of unstable African countries are still experiencing a population explosion, along with a few war-torn countries like Afghanistan. Even in these countries, birth rates are falling. Access to contraception is the main issue: Wherever women are free to choose, births decrease.

  5. Most countries of the developed world are not producing enough babies to sustain their populations and have been failing to do so for decades. In other words, their fertility rate has remained below 2.1,

  6. The fall of birth rates does not necessarily mean an immediate fall in total population. Due to a phenomenon called demographic momentum, total population may continue to rise for decades. This is due to the fact that women from the earlier high-birth period will reach maturity and starting to have babies of their own. Even if their fertility is below replacement, the total number of babies is still high due to the large number of mothers. Total population will fall only after these mothers pass beyond their childbearing years.

  7. In spite of demographic momentum, many countries in the developed world have already topped out and are now shrinking, including Japan and most of Eastern Europe. If China hasn't already peaked, it soon will.

  8. The fall of birth rates results in the long-term aging of the population. Proportionally, there are fewer children and more old people.
  9. Once population starts to fall, it is virtually unstoppable, at least within current social and governmental structures.

  10. Demographic momentum also applies in the negative direction. Once total population starts to drop, a dramatic increase in birth rates will not slow the fall for several decades, because there are so few potential mothers.

  11. Population loss may sound like a good thing at first, since it means lower impact on Earth's resources, but there are two problems: (1) Falling births means a rising percentage of elderly citizens. As they become frail in old age, there will be insufficient active workers to care for them. (2) Prior financial commitments made during the high-growth period, like government debts, become unsustainable as the number of taxpayers decrease.

  12. If a country is consistently experiencing greater deaths than births, the only way to sustain the population is through immigration. Immigration is not a magic bullet. While it is positive for the receiving country, it is a loss to the donor country. Many countries like Japan and China are historically opposed to immigration, while others like Russia couldn't attract substantial immigration even if they wanted it.

  13. No government policy change will encourage people to have more children. Childrearing is so expensive and risky that no government incentives can compensate for the costs.

  14. As birth rates fall, the average age of the population will increase, with very few young people and many old.

  15. As the proportion of elderly grows, their demands on society will increase even as their productivity falls and they pay less in taxes. The younger population still in the workforce will be unable to support them.

  16. Within the next 20 years, the world will experience a massive economic collapse, as overwhelming debt runs up against the boundaries of a shrinking population. I call this "the Great Reversal". It is the economic readjustment period a growing workforce to a shrinking one and from a young population to an older one.

  17. Everyone will emerge from the Great Reversal poorer than they are today. If big governments continue to function at all, they will be operating on a greatly reduced basis with only a fraction of their current funding.

  18. Following the great reversal will be a long Dark Age, when population continues to fall and economies continue to shrink. More and more of human infrastructure will be abandoned. Whole towns will become empty.

Population Implosion

  • The largest drop in birth rates in recent decades can be traced to the legalization of the birth control pill in the 1960s. This event helped advance the women's liberation movement, where women sought the right to compete equally in fields traditionally reserved for men. Both events helped to permanently suppress birth rates, since women could now pursue careers outside the home.

  • Birth rates were unusually high during the post-war Baby Boom (1946-1964 in the USA).

  • Birth rates were unusually low during the Great Depression and World War II.

  • A drop in a community's birthrate does not result in immediate population loss, due to a phenomenon called demographic momentum. If the low-birth period was preceded by a high-birth one (like the postwar Baby Boom in the USA), population can continue to grow for decades after fertility has fallen below replacement. People from the high-birth period have to start dying before total population falls.

    • Related: Total births reflect not just the fertility rate but also the relative number of females currently in their childbearing years. For example, the Baby Boomers had fewer babies than their parents, but because there were so many of them, the total number of births continued to rise in the late 20th Century.

  • Today, birth control comes in so many forms that it is virtually impossible to ban by even the most conservative governments. Abortion and the birth control pill canbe outlawed, but it would be difficult to stamp out condoms or oral sex.

  • As long as birthrates remain below replacement fertility, the average age of the population will rise until it consists mainly of elderly people.

    • Example: If fertility is 1.0 and remains so for four generations, it means that for every newborn baby, there are, on average, two parents, four grandparents and eight great-grandparents. The old will vastly outnumber the young.

  • No government program has proven successful in improving birthrates, because bearing and raising children is a losing economic proposition for parents. If you are not already motivated to do it, the costs and risks of raising a child are far greater than anything the government can offer.

    • Government incentives for childbirth offered include tax breaks, cash bonuses, subsized daycare and appeals to patriotism. Methods not yet attempted might include forced pregnancies and penalties for women who do not have children.

    • The success or failure of government incentives is difficult to judge because there is no control group (adults not offered the incentives). If you offer a cash bonus for childbirth, people who have already decided to have children will collect the reward, but it is unclear whether it changes anyone's mind.

Population Explosion

  • Overpopulation is easier to address than underpopulation, because if you give people access to birth control, they will use it.

  • Only a handful of countries are currently suffering from a population explosion—that is, with fertility rates significantly higher than replacement level. They are mostly in equatorial Africa and war zones like Afghanistan.

  • These countries are so chaotic and misgoverned that basic services like birth control can't be delivered.

  • These countries are often racked by civil war, which feeds on population growth. Unemployed young people provide the cannon fodder to keep the wars going. The wars, in turn, prevent access to birth control, encouraging still more population growth.

  • The excess of babies in these exploding countries cannot realistically address the shortage of babies in the developed world. The developed world doesn't lack babies as much as it lacks parents to raise them and integrate them into society. Average adults raised in poverty do not make good citizens when transported to, say, France, because they cannot be assimilated into French society.

    • Immigrants who do not assimilate into their new country tend to form enclaves within the new country where the interact only with their own countrymen. In essence, they import all the problems of the old country into the new one without joining the new one.

Debt & Economic Collapse

  • Workers from the earlier high-birth period (e.g. the U.S. Baby Boom, 1946-1964) are currently retiring in large numbers, depleting the workforce and drawing on government resources.

  • As the workforce shrinks and elder care costs rise, national economic growth becomes impossible.

  • As economic growth slows and reverses, the huge debts of nations, companies and individuals become unsustainable and must fail.

  • Eventually, key debtors like the U.S. Government will have to default on their unpayable debt, leading to a massive economic crisis I call the Great Reversal. This is the painful adjustment period between the economic expansion of the 20st Century and the long-term contraction of the 21st. I can't tell you when the crisis will start or how long it will last, but it is coming soon, and will be deep. It will be far worse than a standard recession, because this time the government will fail.

  • The Great Reversal can only end when unsustainable debt is eliminated and governments have reduced their expenditures to the taxes actually received. This may mean the end of some governments that can't survive on taxes alone. They will be replaced by smaller and more nimble governing forces. For example, if the U.S. federal government falls apart, state and local governments may take over, but "local government" could also be brutal tribal warlords in the Mad Max vein.
  • An economic crisis is bound to suppress birthrates even further, because no one wants babies during hard times.
  • Even in the best times, the most successful and best educated adults are having fewer children than the less successful and least educated, and there is no end of this trend in sight. People who can plan ahead understand how expensive and dangerous child rearing can be. People who can't plan ahead have no such qualms. The people best equipped to bear and raise children aren't having them, and this has to have a long term effect on the quality of the new citizens being produced.
  • Without a dramatic increase in birthrates, which seems highly unlikely, the population of all developed countries will continue to fall, until they can't be called countries anymore.
  • As national governments fail, Planet Earth will be left only with local communities. These are people living in close physical proximity who band together for mutual survival. If a traditional government can't protect you, you may have to form a de facto government with your neighbors.
  • Most of these local communities will consist mainly of old people, but a few may learn how to restructure themselves to encourage the production and raising of children. Instead of expecting couples to bear the main burden of parenthood, the whole community must take responsibility.
  • The communities that focus on their children and produce a lot of them will eventually take over the world. Any community that can't achieve this goal will become extinct.
  • To preserve the healthy functioning of society, a community must be concerned with not only the quantity of their offspring but their quality, as determine by both genetics and upbringing. No community will survive in the long run if it does not exert some control over who procreates and how children are raised.

Future Families

Page Created: 19 Jan 2019
24 Mar 2019 — Future Families section added

Demographic Doom Roadmap (active pages only)