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Advantage America

U.S. fertility rate is the best in the West, but to whom much is given, much is expected

Issue: "Medical care circus," Feb. 25, 2012

Starved for a little good news? Tired of the daily menu of grim statistics, ugly disappointments, and serial disillusionments?

Then try this: Overpopulation-and by that I mean a relatively high birth rate-continues, on balance, to be a blessing. And especially so in the United States.

We've sounded this theme here before. But the trend continues, and you should be heartened with its implications. Just a few days ago, political consultant, analyst, and commentator Dick Morris (a former aide to President Bill Clinton who later repented and changed his ways) spoke energetically to the issue.

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The United States, says Morris, is now the only major industrialized country in the whole world that is not shrinking away to nothingness because of the aging of its population. Most of Europe, he claims, is just plain disappearing. Italy's 75 million people 10 years ago are now just 65 million, and will dwindle to 50 million by the year 2050. Spain is dropping from 43 million to 33 million. Japan has shrunk over the last 10 years from 125 million to 115 million, and is heading to 100 million 10 years from now. "It's an absolute catastrophe," says Morris. "The Japanese race is dying out."

The main point, though, is that this devastating shrinkage is happening almost everywhere-in virtually every industrialized country of the world. Except for the United States.

Tracking the United States requires keeping your eye on two important variables. The first is the fertility rate-and the important figure to keep in mind on that subject is 2.1. If the average woman in a nation has at least 2.1 babies in her lifetime, those babies will fulfill what is sometimes called the "replacement rate," and that nation is likely to keep growing. The U.S. rate has for some years hovered right around that 2.1 mark. Especially when augmented by both legal and illegal immigration, such a figure suggests a healthy and growing population for the United States for some time into the future.

Elsewhere in the "developed" world, though, that rate lags far behind replacement. France is at 1.9, the United Kingdom at 1.8, Canada at 1.5, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy at 1.4, Hungary at 1.3, South Korea at 1.2, and Hong Kong at a suicidal 1.0. For all their other forms of wealth, these are in fact dying civilizations.

But there's more. Besides the birth rate, you've got to keep an eye as well on the so-called "aging" rate. What proportion of the total population is over 65 and likely sooner rather than later to need significant care from the younger set? The so-called "population bomb" that so worried the experts a generation ago has morphed from babies into the older set. And the disparities are startling: The over-65 set in the United States is an almost uniquely low 13.5 percent-compared to a budget-busting 25 percent or so in places like Japan, China, and most European countries. The cost of caring for such a swollen (and needy) portion of the population is more and more staggering-especially when there are fewer and fewer young people to share that burden.

"There's no more fundamental problem for a society," says Dick Morris, "than that your people don't want to have children. ... When we fight Obama's socialism, and his redistribution, and his class warfare, we're also fighting the pessimism, the disillusionment, the apathy, and the cynicism that set in as a result of that same mindset. But let's count our blessings. Let's understand that the optimism that has stimulated us in the past can still unite us and be the strength of this great country."

Americans who are also Christians can take this a step further. Could God be signaling His people in the United States that He still has major tasks for us in strengthening the work of His kingdom around the world? The evangelism and education of His people, both here and in other nations, are not yet complete. More people abroad means more people to respond to God's call. And a bigger and more prosperous population here in the United States is not just a statistical development that occurs by happenstance. It's the design of a providential God who says to us, with optimism: "Go for it!"

Email jbelz@worldmag.com

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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