As discussed in a prior post, New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat argues that the defining challenge of the 21st century is declining population in many of the world’s countries. 
Skepticism about this contention has been voiced by Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvin, even though he does not cite Douthat’s article.
While conceding that “a shrinking global population . . . poses unprecedented challenges for humanity,” Feng says, “alarmist warnings are often simplistic and premature” and “can lead to hasty policy and human tragedy.”
Instead Weng says, “The population declines seen today in some countries have come about largely as a happy story of greater longevity and freedom. Fertility rate worldwide dropped from more than five births per woman in the early 1960s to 2.3 in 2020. Credit greater investment in child and maternal health everywhere: A mother who successfully brings her child to term and an infant who survives to childhood lower birthrates because parents often don’t feel the need to try again. Greater availability of free or affordable contraception has also reduced unwanted births.”
Moreover, Feng asserts, “additional “women in the work force is a recipe for even greater productivity and prosperity and could help ease labor concerns among falling populations. More women than ever are rising to leadership positions in business, media and politics.”
“Compared with a half-century ago, people in many countries are richer, healthier and better educated and women are more empowered. “ This is associated with “[a]verage world life expectancy . . . [having] increased from 51 years in 1960 to 73 in 2019, and even more so in China, from 51 in 1962 to 78 in 2019. Increases of that magnitude reshape lives and open up opportunities unimaginable when life spans were shorter.”
“Fewer people on the planet, of course, may reduce humanity’s ecological footprint and competition for finite resources. There could even be greater peace as governments are forced to choose between spending on military equipment or on pensions. And as rich nations come to rely more on immigrants from poorer countries, those migrants gain greater access to the global prosperity currently concentrated in the developed world.”
Feng, however, concedes, “This new demography brings new challenges, including the need to offer quality and affordable child care, make college education more affordable and equitable, provide guaranteed minimum income and make societies more gender equal. Governments should abandon the mindless pursuit of economic growth in favor of well-being for citizens.”
Whose side are you on? Douthat or Feng?
 Douthat, Five Rules for an Aging World, N.Y. Times (Jan. 21, 2023); Another Defining Challenge of the 21st Century, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 25, 2023).
 Feng, The Alternative, Optimistic Story of Population Decline, N.Y. Times (Jan. 30, 2033).
One thought on “Skepticism About Douthat’s Defining Challenge of the 21st Century ”