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Fertility rates plunge, global population bust in sight

Here's a chart of the 2009 fertility rates of a selection of countries. Go here and you can play with the selections, courtesy of Google and the World Bank. Move the slider at the bottom to the left and watch how global fertility rates were much higher in the not-too-distant past. 20 years ago Brazil, for example, had a fertility rate of 2.9, and now it is less than 1.9. (Note: 2.1 is considered to be the replacement rate, below which a population will eventually shrink.) Currently, all countries to the right of the United States have fertility rates at or below replacement levels. The developed world population will be shrinking within a few decades, and the rate of population growth in the lesser developed countries will likely continue to decline dramatically for the foreseeable future.

When I was young, I remember all the dire warnings about the "population time bomb." Global population was careening out of control, projected to exceed 14 billion by the end of this century. Today the situation has completely reversed: now there are projections which say that global population will peak at 7.5 billion around 2040. Before you know it, the world's biggest problem will be a dearth of new babies and dramatically shrinking populations.

Already, Europe is losing about 700,000 people per year, a figure that will grow to about 3 million per year or more by mid-century. If fertility rates don't increase, the population of Europe will lose up to 100 million people by mid-century. Russia is losing about 1 million people per year, and it could lose 30% or more of its population by 2050. According to the IMF, Japan's population will peak this year and then begin an inexorable decline. Japan's labor force peaked in 1998, and has since fallen by over 2 million people. (Most of these statistics come from the fascinating book Fewer, by Ben Wattenberg.)

One implication: when speaking of developed countries, it will soon be necessary to specify real GDP in per capita or per worker terms. For example, Japan's relatively slow rate of reported GDP growth becomes healthier when taking into account a shrinking workforce and an aging population. An economy's population can shrink and the size of its economy can stagnate, while still growing in per-person terms.

HT: Instapundit

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