Wednesday, June 29, 2022

How Exposed Population Will Change the World

All over the world, countries are experiencing population stagnation and decreased fertility, an unrivaled vicissitudes in recorded history, which would make first birthday parties a rarer scene than funerals, and a commonplace in empty homes. Will be seen.

Maternity wards are already closed in Italy. Ghost cities are visible in northeast China. Universities in South Korea are not getting enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been destroyed, land turned into parks.

Like an avalanche, demographic forces – pushing for more deaths than births – are expanding and intensifying. Although some countries continue to increase their populations, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling almost everywhere. Demographics now predict that by the second half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a continuous decline for the first time.

A planet with fewer people can reduce pressure on resources, slow the devastating effects of climate change, and reduce the domestic burden for women. But the census announcements of China and the United States this month, which showed the slowest rate of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to a tighter adjustment.

The stress of long life and low fertility, leading to fewer workers and more retirees, is how society is organized – around the notion that a surplus of young people will drive economies and help pay for the old. This may also require a re-conceptualization of family and nation. Imagine an entire area where everyone is 70 or older. Imagine that governments are paying huge bonuses for immigrants and mothers with lots of children. Imagine a gig economy filled with grandparents and Super Bowl commercials promoting fertility.

“A paradigm shift is necessary,” said Frank Swiazny, a German demographic who until last year was head of population trends and analysis for the United Nations. “Countries need to learn to live with and adapt to the decline.”

Impacts and reactions are already visible, especially in East Asia and Europe. From Hungary to China, Sweden to Japan, governments are struggling to balance the demands of growing-up people with the needs of young people, whose most intimate decisions about having children are positive (more for women) Work opportunities) and are being shaped by both negative factors. (Persistent gender inequality and high living costs).

The 20th century presented a very different challenge. The global population saw the largest increase in known history, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000 as life span became longer and infant mortality declined. In some countries – which represent about a third of the world’s people – the dynamics of development are still in practice. By the end of the century, Nigeria could overtake China in population; In Sub-Saharan Africa, families still have four or five children.

But almost everywhere, the era of high fertility is coming to an end. As women have more access to education and contraception, and as concerns about childbirth intensify, more parents are delaying pregnancy and fewer children are being born. Huh. Even in countries with long-term rapid growth, such as India and Mexico, the birth rate is falling toward, or is already down, the replacement rate of 2.1 children per family.

Change can take decades, but once it starts, declines (like growth) Spiral exponentially. With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents – which is happening in dozens of countries – the drop starts to look like a rock thrown from a cliff.

“It becomes a cyclical system,” said Stuart Gittel Basten, an expert in Asian demography and professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “This is demographic momentum.”

Some countries, such as the United States, Australia, and Canada, where birth rates hover between 1.5 and 2, have blunted influence with immigrants. But in Eastern Europe, migration out of the region has increased the population, and in large parts of Asia, the “demographic time bomb” that first became the subject of debate a few decades ago has finally taken off.

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South Korea’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019 – less than one child per woman, the lowest rate in the developed world. For the past 59 months, the total number of children born in the country every month has fallen to record depths.

That declining birth rate, as well as the rapid industrialization that has pushed people from rural cities to big cities, has felt like a two-tier society. While major metros such as Seoul continue to develop, with extreme pressure on infrastructure and housing, it is easy to find schools closed and abandoned in regional cities, with their playgrounds full of weeds, as there are not enough children.

In many areas expectant mothers can no longer find obstetricians or post-natal care centers. Universities below the elite level, especially outside Seoul, are finding it harder to fill their ranks – the number of 18-year-olds in South Korea has fallen from around 900,000 in 1992 to 500,000 today. To attract students, some schools have offered scholarships and Even iPhones.

To reduce the birth rate, the government has given a baby bonus. This increased child allowances and medical subsidies for fertility treatment and pregnancy. Health officials presented beef, children’s clothing and toys to newborns. The government is also building hundreds of kindergartens and day care centers. In Seoul, pink seats are reserved for pregnant women in every bus and subway car.

But this month, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki admitted that the government – which has spent more than $ 178 billion in the last 15 years, encouraging women to have more children – is not making enough progress. . In many families, the change seems cultural and permanent.

“My grandparents had six children, and my parents had five, because their generations believed in having many children,” said Kim Mi-kyung, 38, a stay-at-home parent . “I have only one child. For me and the younger generation, all things considered, it does not pay to have many children.”

Thousands of miles away, in Italy, the feeling is the same with a different background.

In Capracotta, a small town in southern Italy, a sign in red letters reading “Home of School Kindergarten” on the 18th-century stone building overlooking the Apennine Mountains – but today, the building is a nursing home.

Residents in the old theater room eat their evening broth on waxed tablecloths.

“There were so many families, so many children,” said 93-year-old Concetta D’Andrea, who was a student and teacher at the school and is now a resident of the nursing home. “There is no one now.”

The population in Capracotta is dramatically aged and contracted – from about 5,000 people to 800. The city’s carpentry shops have closed. The organizers of a football tournament struggled to form a single team.

Nearly half an hour away, in the city of Agnone, the maternity ward closed a decade ago because it had fewer than 500 births a year, the national minimum to remain open. This year, six children were born in Agnone.

“Once you could hear the babies crying in the nursery, and it was like music,” said Enrica Ciulo, a nurse who used to help give birth there and now looks after mostly older patients. “There is silence now and a feeling of emptiness.”

In a speech during a conference on Italy’s birth crisis last Friday, Saint Papa Francis said that the “demographic winter” was still “cold and dark”.

More people in more countries may soon discover their own metaphors. Birth estimates often change based on the response of governments and families, but according to The projections By an international team of scientists published in The Lancet last year, fertility rates will be below the replacement level by 2100 – out of 195 – in 183 countries and territories.

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His model shows a particularly sharp decline for China, with its population expected to decline from 1.41 billion to around 730 million in 2100. If this happens, the population pyramid will inevitably overturn. Instead of a base of young workers supporting a narrow band of retirees, China will have 85-year-olds as 18-year-olds.

According to census data released on Tuesday, China’s Rust Belt, northeast, has seen a 1.2 percent drop in population over the past decade. In 2016, Heilongjiang Province became the first province in the country whose pension system ran out of money. In Hegang, a “ghost town” in the province that has lost about 10 percent of its population since 2010, homes are priced so low that people compare them to cabbage.

Many countries have begun to accept the need to adapt, not just to protest. South Korea is insisting on the merger of universities. In Japan, where adult diapers are now sold for children, Municipalities have been consolidated As cities age and shrink. in Sweden, some cities Have shifted resources from schools to elder care. And almost everywhere, older people are being asked to work. Germany, which previously raised its retirement age to 67, is now considering a 69.

Moving further than many other countries, Germany has also worked through a program of urban contraction: Since 2002 the demolition has removed approximately 330,000 units from the housing stock.

And if the goal is revival, some green sprouts may be found. After increasing access to affordable child care and paid parental leave, Germany’s fertility rate Recently increased Increased from 1.3 in 2006 to 1.54. Leipzig, once shrinking, is now growing again after reducing its housing stock and making itself more attractive with its smaller scale.

“Development is a challenge, as is the decline,” said Mr. Swiazny, now a senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany.

Demographers warn against seeing population declines as a cause of alarm only. Many women have fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations can lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for children born in lower numbers.

However, Professor Gitel Basten quoted Casanova as saying: “There is no such thing as luck. We ourselves shape our lives.”

The challenges ahead are still a misnomer – no country with a severe slowdown in population growth has been able to increase its fertility rate much beyond the modest growth achieved by Germany. There are very few signs of wage increases in shrinking countries, and there is no guarantee that less population means less stress on the environment.

Many demographers argue that the present moment may refer to future historians like a period of infection or conception, when humans figured out how to make the world more hospitable or not – enough to create a family for people. They want.

Surveys in several countries show that youngsters want to have more children, but they face much greater obstacles.

Anna Parolini tells a common story. He left his small hometown in northern Italy to find better job opportunities. Now 37, she lives in Milan with her boyfriend and has stopped her desire to have children.

She fears that her salary of less than 2,000 euros per month will not be enough for a family, and her parents still live where she grew up.

“I don’t have anyone here who can help me,” he said. “Now the thought of having a baby will make me gasp.”

Elsie Chen, Christopher Schuetz and Benjamin Nowak contributed reporting.

Nation World News Desk
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