2007 January 07 « networks info space
[TUE 12 DEC 06] THE 300 MILLION
* THE 300 MILLION: According to an article in THE ECONOMIST (“Now We Are 300,000,000”, 14 October 2006), in 2006 the United States of America passed a milestone: the population officially reached the 300 million mark. The 200 million mark had been reached in 1967, and the 400 million mark is expected to be reached in 2043 or so. This is a remarkable rate of population growth for a wealthy country, making the USA the world’s third most populous country after China and India. In contrast, Japan and the EU are expected to lose millions over the next few decades.
These are all just estimates, with a lot of factors that can change the ultimate sums, such as immigration, new lifestyles, increase or decrease in lifespan. However, it is a well-established fact that the US birthrate is an average of 2.1 children per woman — only about the replacement rate, but along with robust immigration it means a booming population. Contrast this with the EU, where the fertility rate is 1.47, and where the population is expected to start falling in 2010. In Spain and Italy, it’s 1.28, and without immigration the populations of those countries will fall to half in 42 years.
Falling birthrates are generally seen as an indication of prosperity. In poor countries, families try to have more kids to provide extra hands for work, as well as providing an old-age safety net. In rich societies, children can be a very expensive proposition, and with women working more and more, child-rearing means losing a good part of family income while financial demands rise. Couples in rich countries end up balancing their desire for the good life with their desire for children.
So why the high US birthrate? It seems that one of the answers is that Americans are more devout than Europeans. There is a tendency overseas to view the US as something like the Western equivalent of Afghanistan, a hotbed of religious fundamentalism, but in reality American religious conservatism is not always extreme, and the vision of fundamentalist families with hot and cold running kids is, as a birthrate of 2.1 kids per woman shows, much more the exception than the rule. However, a comfortable association with a religious faith not only pushes family values but provides resources to help raise families.
There is also the fact that the equality of the sexes is good, if not perfect, in the USA; studies seem to show that more male-dominated societies like Japan, where child-rearing is shifted heavily to women, have lower birthrates. In addition, there’s more wide open spaces in the US for families to grow. The big urban centers are of course crowded and have high living costs, but there’s plenty of space left in the heartlands and the West.
The changes in population mean changes in demographics. Cities like Houston, Texas, were once white-dominated; now whites share power and influence with hispanics, blacks, and asians. Some non-white Houston residents don’t feel race is an issue there, one saying: “Everybody’s so busy making money they don’t have time to worry about race.” Others disagree to an extent, but most of the citizenry still feels the multiethnic nature of their city is a strength in an age of globalization. As goes Houston, so it seems will go the rest of the USA.
Population growth, in spite of the old fears of “population doomsday”, is seen generally as a good thing here. By 2050, there will be one retired European for every two Europeans in the workforce; in the US the ratio will be a more tolerable one to three. The attitude is that problems of growth are better than problems of decline. The US population boom may well make others nervous. The USA is now widely seen elsewhere as overbearing, though the Americans have been acquiring some humility the hard way, and the prospect of 400 million Americans is likely to cause some nervousness. But the more diverse and globalized America of 2043 may not be as big an irritant.