(TMU) – Researchers are decrying collapsing birth rates around the world, which they warn will result in profound social change if governments don’t roll out new reproductive health policies.
Spain, Japan, Portugal and Thailand are among the 23 countries that could see their populations more than half in a “jaw-dropping” trend.
While the global population is expected to peak at about 9.7 billion around 2064, the population will fall to 8.8 by the end of the 21st century.
“That’s a pretty big thing; most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline,” Professor Christopher Murray told BBC News.
“I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognize how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganize societies,” he added.
According to a new study by researchers from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and published in peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, fertility rates are presently in freefall – and the rate is expected to fall even faster in coming decades.
Fertility rates, or the average number of children women give birth to, are a key indicator for population stability. When the number falls below an average of 2.1, populations start to shrink.
And while women gave birth to an average of 4.7 children in 1950, the birth rate has nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017. However, by 2100 it is expected to fall under to under 1.7.
“That is jaw-dropping,” Murray remarked about the projections.
China, which is currently the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 people in four years before sharply dropping off to 732 million by 2100. India, in the meantime, will rise to become the most populous nation.
In Japan, population could drop from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to under 53 million by the end of the century.
Italy, too, will face a sharp fall from 61 million to 28 million.
And while some might assume that a smaller population might be better for the environment, the societal impact of collapsing birth rates will offset any imagined benefits of a smaller human footprint in the world.
“That would be true except for the inverted age structure (more old people than young people) and all the uniformly negative consequences of an inverted age structure,” Murray said.
“It will create enormous social change,” he added. “It makes me worried because I have an eight-year-old daughter and I wonder what the world will be like.”
Indeed, with a shrinking population governments will face mounting healthcare costs and a decreased ability to care for the elderly, sharper pressures to not retire, and a shrinking tax revenue base for cash-strapped governments.
Japan, for example, has long struggled to remain competitive as its workforce continues to decline and spending on senior citizens has risen. As a result, the government has raised the retirement age from 60 to anywhere between 65 and 71 as the shrinking population rapidly ages.
According to researchers, one reason why fertility has declined and population growth has slowed is because women are getting better reproductive health education and increased access to contraceptives.
“Responding to population decline is likely to become an overriding policy concern in many nations, but must not compromise efforts to enhance women’s reproductive health or progress on women’s rights,” said Professor Stein Emil Vollset.
Researchers recommend that countries facing a decline should roll out new policies that both improve female reproductive health and also help boost fertility rates.
“We need a soft landing,” Murray said.
And while countries in the developed Global North have offset their falling population number and shrinking labor pool by relying on immigrants from the South, this fails to provide a solution when most countries’ fertility rates are dropping.
“We will go from the period where it’s a choice to open borders, or not, to frank competition for migrants, as there won’t be enough,” argues Prof Murray.
As a result, we could see a future where borders begin to fade away as wage-earners and laborers become increasingly scarce.
“If these predictions are even half accurate, migration will become a necessity for all nations and not an option,” said Professor Ibrahim Abubakar of University College London (UCL).
“To be successful we need a fundamental rethink of global politics,” he added.
“The distribution of working-age populations will be crucial to whether humanity prospers or withers.”
It’s also a mistake to assume that a shrunken population size will somehow mean more material prosperity for the rest of us – and a new approach is needed if we are to save ourselves from disappearing.
“I find people laugh it off; they can’t imagine it could be true, they think women will just decide to have more kids,” Murray said.
“If you can’t [find a solution] then eventually the species disappears, but that’s a few centuries away.”
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.