In fact, fewer than 20 percent of the world's nations are now experiencing growing population rates, the CIA reports. All the rest have either stable or declining populations. The reasons for this are varied -- as are the likely consequences. But first the facts.
The nations with the world's lowest birth rates are here in
Thirty-four countries are bearing fewer than 1.5 children per couple, including
Extremely poor sub-Saharan African states have the highest birth rates, including
One result: America's milk industry is crisis. Milk consumption has fallen by one-third since 1975.
Well-off nations like the U.S. are having fewer children in part because more and more women are unwilling to take time off work to have babies. Also, the cost of children, from the child-care years all the way through college and beyond, can be terrifying -- particularly now that Western economies have been stagnant or mired in recession for so long.
The most obvious consequence is: The elderly population is ballooning in most every developed nation, leading to higher and higher pension, health-care and related costs -- with a smaller working population to pay for all of that.
Exacerbating the problem, average life expectancy worldwide is rising. The Lancet, a British medical journal, published an expansive study in December showing that average life spans worldwide have increased by 10 years since 1970. That's a great leap forward, but it also leaves the dwindling younger generation with more years of elder care to pay for.
Demographers say the world's overall population will continue growing in the decades ahead but eventually will begin to stagnate and drop -- perhaps later this century. That does offer some benefits.
Over time, greenhouse gas along with other damaging emissions and pollutants may decline. At the same time, however, people will begin abandoning some small towns, as is already happening in
All this foretells huge economic challenges in the decades ahead as most countries produce fewer young workers so that industrial production declines, and the ratio of workers to retirees tips heavily toward the elderly -- "disproportionally more old people depending upon a smaller generation behind them," as the Economist put it.
Housing markets will collapse, and economies will suffer as businesses contract -- just like the milk industry in America today.
All of this tells us: We're on our way toward a very different world.
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