A mother bounces on a seesaw with her daughter. Suddenly, the child fades from the screen. That image encapsulates the haunting message of the documentary Demographic Winter: Depopulation is no myth.
Although not as chilling as Will Smith's last-man-standing routine in I Am Legend, Demographic Winter brings together a wide spectrum of experts-demographers, economists, sociologists, diplomats-and sends a clear warning: We'd better increase our birthrate or we're in big trouble.
According to the film, the problem started in Europe, where the birthrate is currently 1.38, compared to 2.1-the rate needed for societal survival. In Russia, the population is declining by 700,000 people per year. And one German province had to close 220 of its schools in 2006. The United States isn't far behind.
The film proposes several causes for this supposed worldwide "birth dearth": working women who delay motherhood; a desire for affluence without the restraint of children; the sexual revolution and the disconnect between sex and procreation; and the divorce revolution.
The results, the experts say, could be devastating, both socially and economically. In the United States, it means that the retired population will soon overwhelm the working population. Developing countries (which typically reproduce faster than developed countries) will continue to lose their work force (and fathers) to developed countries. And the economy could decline with a drastic drop in population.
But, in the end, it all comes down to the family. "You can't have sustainable development if you don't have a sustainable family," said Alban d'Entremont, economics professor at the University of Navarra, Spain.
Ironically, those most capable of raising families aren't having many children. With one exception: the faith community.
Across the globe, the film notes, people of faith-Jews, Muslims, Christians-are having more children than their secular counterparts. Phillip Longman, author of The Empty Cradle, says this trend leads to one conclusion: "There are two ways to turn this around. One is the Swedish model (the Swedish government will pay its citizens to have children). The other is a return to traditional values."