Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, asserts that at least one of the defining challenges of the current century is “the birth dearth, the population bust, the old age of the world.”
This assertion is based, he says, upon “various forces, the Covid crisis especially, [that] have pushed birthrates lower faster, bringing the old-age era forward rapidly.” Additional support for this thesis, he says, is China’s recent announcement that “its population declined for the first time since the Great Leap Forward, over 60 years ago.” And “variations on that shadow lie over most rich and many middle-income nations now—threatening general sclerosis, and a zero-sum struggle between a swollen retired generation, and the over-burdened young.”
Douthat then asserts the following “Rules for an Aging World:”
- “The rich world will need redistribution back from old to young.” “[R]eform [of] old-age entitlements will become ever more essential and correct — so long as the savings can be used to make it easier for young people to start a family, open a business, own a home. And countries that find a way to make this transfer successfully will end up far ahead of those that just sink into gerontocracy.”
- “The big bottlenecks [of the new A.I. technology] aren’t always in invention itself: they’re in testing, infrastructure, deployment, regulatory hurdles.”
- “Ground warfare will run up against population limits [as we see today in the Russia-Ukraine war and the tensions over Taiwan].”
- A “little extra youth and vitality will go a long way.” For example, “countries that manage to keep or boost their birthrates close to replacement level will have a long-term edge over countries that plunge toward . . .half-replacement-level fertility.” The same “will be true within societies as well.”
- A major challenge in this new age will be the international response to the projections that Africa’s population will “reach 2.5 billion by 2050 and [4.0] billion by 2100. . . .The balance between successful assimilation and destabilization and backlash [of the African diaspora] ….will help decide whether the age of demographic decline ends in revitalization or collapse.”
Wow!, This is a new and frightening projection of the next 80 years for all of us on planet Earth today! We certainly have seen these challenges in states in the Middle West like Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and Nebraska, and this blog has advocated for increased immigration in these states to counteract aging and declining populations. Nearly everyone in the U.S. today and in the future should join me in a chorus, “I am a proud descendant of immigrants!!”
At the end of the Douthat column are many comments from readers. Here are a few of those comments:
- Geoff Burrell of Western Australia said, “Aged 72 I tend to agree that longevity is currently a problem but hasn’t ‘age at dying’ decreased in western countries due to the pandemic, a trend that may continue for many decades as new Covid variants and climate change induced pandemics come along. The article also characterizes elderly people as a ‘burden’ but doesn’t recognize the substantial portion of any population’s wealth they hold, much of it, ironically, used to support younger family members. Immigration is also able to overcome most of the deficits faced by a population with an ageing society, though that requires a good immigration policy to ensure the country gets what it wants.”
- Edwin, an American MD in Africa, thanks Douthat “for his recognition of the importance of Africa. Most of Africa’s low- and middle-income countries have 50% or more of their population under the age of 17 years. The education, health and stability of Africa’s children and adolescents is critically important, and will be a major determinant of global security in the 21st Century…” He adds, “Northern Nigeria, where I spend much of my effort, now has a huge number of people living in extreme poverty. Yet the young people in this area of Africa’s most populous nation have much promise. We in the West must prioritize the health, education and security of places like northern Nigeria.”
- Nicholas Mellen of Louisville, KY agrees with Edwin. “An aging population? Allow migrants in. They’re young healthy and ambitious. The most productive and successful Americans are usually within the first 3 generations; these migrants will do the same: from Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Russia, China, Afghanistan to name a few. You have to be brave, persistent, hopeful and lucky to survive the journey. So there’s how you rejuvenate an aging nation.”
- Patrick Bohlen of Orlando, IL, says, “Allowing for more immigration is an obvious top 3 solution that would solve many of the issues brought about by the demographic shift. It will also be unavoidable with climited migration. . . . We don’t need higher birth rates, but we do need sane immigration policies that help address both the demographic and climate crises.”
- Anne F of New York, concludes her comment, “We don’t need to be concerned about population decline as it is part of a long-term picture of sustainable human existence. Climate needs to be the focus.”
Surprising news relating to this subject was the recent release of information about the results of the 2021 Gallup World Poll based on detailed interviews with nearly 127,000 adults in 122 countries. “Globally, people’s desire to move reached its highest point in a decade, but interest in moving to the U.S. plunged. When asked where in the world they would want to migrate, 1 in 5 potential migrants — or about 18% — named the U.S. as their desired future residence. The new numbers marked a historic decline that began in 2017, when just 17% — the lowest rate ever recorded — said they’d want to move to the U.S. In previous years, the U.S. has polled between 20% and 24%.”
The managing editor of this World Poll and one of the report’s authors, Julie Ray, attributed the decline in foreigners desire to relocate to the U.S. to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies of the Trump Administration. A Palestinian man, for example, came to the U.S. for graduate study because he thought the U.S. offered “infinite opportunities, but soon he saw a U.S. “workaholicculture,” a lack of fulfillment and evaluating a person’s value by their job status.
 Douthat, Five Rules for an Aging World, N.Y. Times (Jan. 22, 2023).
 Abdeleziz, Fewer People Are Interested in Migrating to The U.S. Than Ever Before. Here’s Why, HuffPost (Jan. 26, 2023); Pugliese & Ray, Nearly 900 Million Worldwide Wanted to Migrate in 2021, gallup.com (Jan. 24, 2023).