Who will take care of you?
While that question may sound like the beginning of a joke for your kids, it’s no joking matter to Stuart Varney, the host of a popular business TV show on the Fox Network. Speaking at the Cattle Industry Convention this week, Varney says shifting fertility rates in the world are foretelling of issues we’ve never had to deal with before: declining population, and aging demographics.
Fertility rate is the number of births per woman of child-bearing age. It takes a rate of about 2:1 to maintain a stable population. The U.S. is just slightly over that number, and that’s why we’re still growing our population slowly. But much of the rest of the developed world is way below 2:1, and population is in decline, says Varney. For instance, Russia’s fertility rate is 1.2:1. Russia had a population of 149 million in 1993, just after the fall of Communism. Today, it has 139 million.
Japan’s fertility rate is 1.2:1. All of Europe is 1.8:1. China, with their one-child policy, has a fertility rate of 0.9:1. “45 countries in the world are losing population,” says Varney. And since people are living longer, too, it means the share of elderly is growing. In Italy, predictions are that by 2020, 55% of all adults will be 65 or older. In Germany, it will be 52%. While the U.S. is getting older, it’s not happening as fast here, due to many more immigrants. Varney puts the “above 65” number in the U.S. at about 30% by 2020.
Isn’t it a good thing, declining population in a hungry world? It might be in the right countries, Varney says, where hunger is the biggest problem. But this is happening in the developed world, where people retire and live on pensions and public social programs, such as our Social Security. “We are going to have this ongoing issue of more retired people living on retirement benefits funded by a declining population of people still in the work force,” says Varney. “Something will have to give. This isn’t politics, it’s not ideology, it’s just a fact that we can’t get around.”