Are you worried about massive immigration both legal and illegal coming from south of the border? The problem might be taken care of all on its own. So says Weekly Standard writer Jonathan Last in his very good new book on population and demography.
Last tells a story that would interest any New Yorker who may be forgiven if they believe there was at one time a virtual invasion of their city by Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans came to New York City in a trickle back in the 1920s, “fewer than 2,000 per year. By 1930, there were 50,000 Puerto Ricans living in the city. This eventually grew to 30,000 per year.
Last explains that the 1950s were a golden age for Puerto Ricans in New York. West Side Story told their story and this movie won the Academy Award and grossed “$440 million in today’s dollars.” There were so many Puerto Ricans in New York that in 1958 the city changed the name of the Hispanic Day Parade to the Puerto Rican Day Parade and they moved it from Harlem to Fifth Avenue. Then something happened.
While in 1955, 85,000 Puerto Ricans moved to New York, by 2010 that number was down to 4,283. What happened? Did immigration become more difficult? No. If anything it became easier. Did the economic situation in Puerto Rico greatly improve? Maybe a little. It’s not like the population of Puerto Rico dropped. In fact it doubled, from 2.25 million in 1955 to 3.99 million in 2010.
What did happen in that time frame was that Puerto Rico’s fertility rated plummeted from 4.97 births per woman to 1.64 in 2012. This eased the economic need to leave. Last says as this same thing happens all over Latin American, and it is happening, immigration will begin to recede in the same way.
The Puerto Rican story is about the only good news in this bleak tale.
Fifteen years ago the United Nations Population Division held its first expert group meeting of demographers on falling fertility rates. The demographers, largely from Europe, were truly alarmed by fertility rates that seemed to have fallen off a cliff and fallen down below replacement levels.
A few years later a similar group met at the UN to explore the question, “how low can fertility rates go?” Their answer was unsettling to say the least because, get this, they did not know.
How far we have come from the population bomb days. Those of a certain age will remember a poster hanging in many 1970’s dorm rooms, a painting of people living on the beach, crowded onto the beach from just too many darned people in America! This and other population predictions never panned out for the doomsayers and you don’t hear much along those lines any longer.
What has happened is something that has never occurred before, plummeting fertility rates not caused by war or famine or disease. As Last explains, this causes profound societal problems as populations begin to age and there are fewer and fewer young people who are needed to keep economies alive and to take care of the needs of the elderly.
Last explains how difficult modern society makes it to have children. Take the car seat. I vividly recall bouncing all over the back seat and arguing about who got to climb into the way back. I grew up in a family of four children. That was an unremarkable number for that time. Today it seems like a troop. And try putting four mandatory car seats in anything other than a very expensive mini-van.
There is also the cost of children. We had our first child seven years ago and my wife left full time employment. I estimate her missed wages in those seven years to be roughly half a million dollars. There’s less coming in and plenty going out. The cost of our daughters’ grade school — we now have two little takers — comes in at $12,000 per year, almost ten times what I spent for yearly college tuition.
Many governments have tried to goose fertility, mostly through monetary incentives. They hardly ever work. Russia, the really sick man of Europe that has an average life span in the upper 60’s and is actually losing several hundred thousand in population each year, has instituted national stay-at-home-and-make-babies day that has not worked.
France and Sweden have had some luck in both monetary transfers and in very liberal stay-at-home-with-baby policies. Their fertility rates have inched up but are still below replacement.
Statistics show that large parts of our world are in the process of simply emptying out. Cities will be left abandoned. It is happening already in Germany. Italy may shrink to half its size by the end of this century. Lots of fantastic villas will stand empty and turn to dust.
Last says American may be an exception, but only maybe. What drives fertility in this selfish child-phobic age is religious belief and practice. As it happens, the US is a very religious country and our fertility rates stand above all the industrialized societies. This may not hold as the US becomes spiritually more like Europe.
The one place in the world that has truly bucked the trend and holds a lesson for us all is the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Where much of the former Soviet Union aborts like crazy and dies early and drunk, Georgia has rebounded largely under the inspiration of Patriarch Ilia II, the longtime head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who promised that “he would personally baptize any child born to parents who already had two or more children.” No cash offered, only the healing water of baptism by their spiritual father. Georgia’s fertility rate increased by 20%.
Is there a plan here—one we cannot see—that fecund religious folk will inherit the Earth?