According to the UN Population Division (UNPD), Total Fertility Rates (TFR), which represent the number of children born to a woman, are declining nearly universally, with only the exception of the United States among economically advanced nations. Many countries currently or will soon lag behind the replacement rate (the average number of children per woman needed to maintain the current population). In Europe, for example, the current TFR stands at 1.38 children per woman--well below the 2.1 replacement rate--and falling. While America's overall population is projected to grow by 100 million in the next forty-five years--aided principally by immigration--Europe stands to lose 100 million during the same period. Among less developed countries, the trend may prove even more acute, as the TFR has fallen from a high of 6.01 children per woman to the current low of 2.92 children in the last thirty-five years.
The causes of this depopulation trend, Wattenberg observes, include "contraception, the move from farm to city, education and work in the paid economy for women, legal abortion, divorce, the rising age of marriage ('fertility delayed is fertility denied'), the public emergence of the homosexual lifestyle, rising incomes, and the apparent separation of fertility decline from socio-economic gain--to begin a long list." Even means of population enlargement, including immigration and better techniques of fertility enhancement, almost everywhere seem unable to counter the effects of the trend toward having fewer children.
These demographic trends are, of course, a driving force behind impending crises in pensions and health care costs throughout the developed world. The UNPD projects that the number of Europeans over the age of sixty-five will increase from 14.7 percent in 2000 to 27.9 percent in 2050. Even the United States, with its relatively stable population growth, faces the prospect of large "baby-boom" retirements, beginning in 2010, and the certainty that Social Security outlays will exceed intake by 2017. Some nations have even adopted pro-natalist policies to stave off the disparity between the aged and the young: Singapore began offering, in 2000, a "baby-bonus" package of subsidies and tax breaks designed to encourage larger families; South Korea proposed raising the retirement age from fifty-seven to sixty; and Japan passed laws in 2003 titled the "Fundamental Law to Support the Development of a New Generation" and the "Fundamental Law Against a Decline in the Fertility Rate." None of these remedies, however, is expected to counterbalance prevailing trends.
The New Demography, as Wattenberg calls it, undoubtedly holds serious implications for geopolitics that may prove difficult to predict. According to the UN, "Western civilization" constituted approximately 32 percent of the world's population as of 1950; that figure is projected to drop to 14 percent by 2050. Although there will still likely be more Europeans than Americans in 2050, the continent will also likely undergo significant depopulation, thereby diminishing its capability to invest in its military and putting greater pressure on the United States to maintain global peace.
As Wattenberg concludes, "Human life has a purpose. Human beings may choose not to have children, or to have only one child, but the human species does not have that choice. Yet the UN data points in that direction."