This article appeared in the Sunday New York Times, and it was so interesting I felt I needed to share it here. I found the concept of “lowest-low fertility” extremely interesting. I think it is become I always find exponential behavior interesting, and thinking about how an exponential decline might affect a population was new to me. From the article:
DEMOGRAPHICALLY SPEAKING, Laviano is not unique in Italy, or in Europe. In fact, it may be a harbinger. In the 1990s, European demographers began noticing a downward trend in population across the Continent and behind it a sharply falling birthrate. Non-number-crunchers largely ignored the information until a 2002 study by Italian, German and Spanish social scientists focused the data and gave policy makers across the European Union something to ponder. The figure of 2.1 is widely considered to be the “replacement rate” — the average number of births per woman that will maintain a country’s current population level. At various times in modern history — during war or famine — birthrates have fallen below the replacement rate, to “low” or “very low” levels. But Hans-Peter Kohler, José Antonio Ortega and Francesco Billari — the authors of the 2002 report — saw something new in the data. For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover. Kohler and his colleagues invented an ominous new term for the phenomenon: “lowest-low fertility.”
I wish the article spent a little more time on historical examples of populations that have cratered like this… it’s unclear to me whether or not this has ever happened in human populations before. Instead, the article strays into unsupported conclusions about the role of men & women domestically as a causal factor.
The issue of labor market flexibility, however, seemed extremely interesting if true. The tie-in to people having children later and living with their parents longer also seemed plausible.
It would have been interesting to see the breakouts for countries based on their overall birth rates vs. immigrant birth rates. My suspicion is that story would also tell you about the likely demographic shifts to expect in countries where birth rates aren’t lowest-low, but are distorted due to large immigrant populations (ie, US, France).
It’s a long article, but worth the read. Let me know what you think.