The demographic crisis currently unfolding around the world is not receiving the media scrutiny that it deserves. The most severe manifestations of this crisis can be seen in Southern and Eastern Europe, East Asia, and North America, but the phenomenon of plummeting birth rates can be observed in almost every area of the world.
Perhaps the reason for this lack of media coverage is our longstanding concern with overpopulation which has been ongoing since the time of Malthus and has gotten increasing media attention every time earth’s population adds another billion.
A number of recent articles that I came across detailing Japan’s demographic catastrophe and the unfolding situation in Eastern Europe kindled my interest. As I delved into the demographic statistics of the countries afflicted most severely with these problems, I was shocked at what I read.
Let’s begin with Southern Europe. Italy’s total fertility rate (TFR) fell below the replacement level of 2.1 back in 1977, dipping below 1.2 in the mid 1990s. From 1975 until 2012, Italy added a measly 4 million people to her total population. Beginning in 1993, the country began to experience a yearly net loss in population, with more people dying than being born. Except for 2004 and 2006, Italy has lost somewhere between 2,000 and 46,000 people per year.
Serbia, the land of my ancestors, is experiencing an acute demographic crisis. Its TFR fell below 2 in 1991 and has been hovering around 1.4 for the last ten years. Beginning in 1992, it began to lose population. For the last ten years, it has averaged a net loss of 34,000 people per year. This is not an insignificant number for a country with a total population of only 7.1 million people.
The population of Greece, that ancient and beautiful land, stopped growing in the early 1980s. Its TFR dropped below the replacement level in 1983 and went quickly downhill from there. It has bottomed out (for now) around 1.4. Since 1996, half of the years have seen a net population decrease. With its recent economic troubles, Greece will not be in any position to help out its young, struggling families.
In Eastern Europe, the situation is even worse. Romania’s TFR slipped to 1.83 in 1990 and since then has hovered between 1.2 and 1.3. The country began to lose population in 1992. Since that year, Romania has lost over 795,000 people, with an average yearly loss of 36,000 people.
Bulgaria’s TFR fell to 1.96 in 1987. It got as low as 1.09 in 1997 before rebounding slightly and now has stabilized for the moment around 1.5 Bulgaria has had a net population loss every year since 1990 and now has 839,000 fewer people than it did then. Average annual population loss: 36,000.
Hungary last had a TFR of 2 or greater in 1979. For the past seventeen years, its TFR has failed to rise above 1.3. It started to lose population in 1981 and has had more deaths than births every year since then. Its total loss since then numbers over 868,000 people with an average annual loss of 26,000.
The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have equally grim statistics. Since 1990, Latvia’s couples have been failing to reproduce themselves and its TFR dipped as low as 1.1 in 1997 and 1998. It has lost between 8,000 and 17,000 people per year since 1991, in a country of only 2 million. The figures for Estonia and Lithuania are comparable.
Russia’s demographic collapse ,which began after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, received some press coverage, but looking back at the horrifying statistics from those years still gives pause. Russia suffered a double whammy: Not only did its birth rate decline quickly, but its death rate skyrocketed at the same time, resulting in massive yearly net population losses. From 1992 until 2006, Russia was losing around 800,000 (!!) people per year. Since 2007, thanks to an improving economic outlook and reforms put in place by Vladimir Putin, the birth rate has started to slowly climb back up and the death rate has begun to slowly decrease. In 2012, its annual loss was only 2,500 people, and last year Russia actually had a population gain for the first time in over 20 years.
Germany is another interesting country to examine. It has not had a TFR above 2 since 1971 and continues to have one of the lowest birth rates in the world, averaging between 1.2 and 1.4 for the last twenty years. It has had more deaths than births every year since 1972 and since 2002 has averaged 150,000 excess deaths per year. The only thing saving Germany from demographic collapse is massive immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe.
These statistics just scratch the surface of this problem. We could discuss the emigration patterns taking place around Europe and the world, which in some cases exacerbate and in other case alleviate the aforementioned issues. We could talk about the underlying causes for couples choosing not to have large families, or any children at all. We might ask what will be the long term consequences for these nations which are losing people so quickly. We could take a look at Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and other places where there is an acute child shortage as well.
This phenomenon is real, it appears it is here to stay, and it is spreading. Save for Sub-Saharan Africa, couples- both married and unmarried- are failing to reproduce themselves and the long and short term consequences for humanity are going to be huge. Nation-states will collapse, national boundaries will be redrawn and the global balance of power will continue to shift.