Demographics in the Developing World

A few years ago, a film called A Day without a Mexican took an amusing look at our dependence on Mexican labor.

While they disagree about everything else, both sides of the immigration debate share one assumption: There is a virtually endless supply of people from Mexico-and the rest of Latin America-who are ready to come here and work.

Well, this assumption may be wrong.

As the documentary Demographic Winter reports, Mexico is in the midst of an unprecedented decline in birth rates: In 1965, the average Mexican woman gave birth to seven children. Today, it is 2.1-the same as their American counterparts. It is estimated that, within the next several decades, Mexico’s population will be older than ours.

This is part of a worldwide trend. We usually associate low birth rates with the industrialized nations. But according to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, up to half of the world’s population lives in countries with below-replacement level fertility.

Thus, it is not only Japan; it is Korea, China, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka . . . And China’s low birthrate-government-ordered, by the way-and its rapidly aging population threaten to undo its newly achieved prosperity.

In other parts of the world, the threat may be graver. In 1980, Iran’s birth rate was 6.5 births per woman. Today, it is 1.7 births per woman-well below replacement level. As a result, Iran has one of the world’s most rapidly aging populations.

The Asia Times columnist “Spengler” has speculated that the Iranian “demographic catastrophe in the making” may tempt Iran to act aggressively “while it still has the manpower to do so.”

The decline of birth rates in the developing world has consequences for the West, as well. The West has compensated for its low birth rates through immigration, most of it from the developing world. But, as Demographic Winter points out, lower birth rates in these countries raise the prospect of fewer immigrants and, thus, a lower standard of living.

Ultimately, the documentary makes the reality of demographic winter, and its consequences, brutally clear.

It also makes it clear that the demographic decline it documents is not the result of some plague or other biological agent-it is the predictable product of our worldviews and values. Any society that devalues marriage, that encourages people to place career above family, that embraces abortion, will see its fertility rates plummet.

But, as Spengler and others have pointed out, the root of the problem is “the decline of religious faith.” Loss of faith in the world to come leaves us grasping for everything we can get in this one, even at the expense of future generations.

Not surprisingly, the exception to these demographic changes is among religious believers, who take seriously the command to be fruitful and multiply-who believe in the family and see children as a gift from God. Their belief in the world to come makes them fruitful in this one. And it makes it urgent to know and articulate our worldview to others while we can.

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