The Graying of the World

Foreign Policy takes a look at aging around the world in an article and a photoessay. The article analyzes a number of aging myths. For example, lower birthrates aren’t exclusive to rich countries: “[W]e see that birth rates are dipping below replacement levels even in countries hardly known for luxury. Emerging first in Scandinavia in the 1970s, what the experts call ‘subreplacement fertility’ quickly spread to the rest of Europe, Russia, most of Asia, much of South America, the Caribbean, Southern India, and even Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, Morocco, and Iran. Of the 59 countries now producing fewer children than needed to sustain their populations, 18 are characterized by the United Nations as ‘developing,’ i.e., not rich.” [%comments]

Eric M. Jones

R. Buckminster Fuller's book Critical Path shows the reduction of birthrate vs the increase in kilowatt-hours per person. Beautiful graphs.

Not a surprise. Educate and empower the women (it turns out) and they suddenly don't want to be only baby factories.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

If the World is getting Greyer, an outstanding investment opportunity is Grecian Hair Dye or Just for Men Hair Care Products. You can "Wash that Grey right out of Your Hair."


@Eric M. Jones

"Not a surprise. Educate and empower the women (it turns out) and they suddenly don't want to be only baby factories."

That's an offensive look at motherhood. I'm all for ensuring women are educated about their choices, and able to make the choices they want, but mothers are not baby factories.

I'm one of 8 kids to my parents; they knew what they were doing having a large family, they knew the struggles they would face, but they made their decision(s) and have never regretted it. The way they see it, it was a long-term investment. They never had the newest cars or the nicest things, but now they are proud of 7 successful children (one more still a minor) who contribute to society and they have ten grandchildren they absolutely adore.

If she had it all to do again, my (educated, empowered, and adored) mother would no doubt make the same decision and at no point would consider herself to be just a baby factory. She was and is a Mom.


Mike B

Sweet, more room at the beach and more per capita natural resources. OIL FIGHT!


Really, now, it's that simple? What about male preferences? Your simplistic feminist-friendly theory predicts increasing conflict between husbands who want more kids and powerful independent women who don't want 'em. Doesn't reflect reality.


Re: Eric

I am also part of a large (6 children) family, but I agree, in general, with Eric's point.

If you give women more options (by freeing and educating them), it is inevitable that some women will choose those other options. It is not that women in other countries have a lot of children, but don't want to. In general, it is the only option in the culture or it is necessary for the labor of the children.


"Of the 59 countries now producing fewer children than needed to sustain their populations, 18 are characterized by the United Nations as 'developing,' i.e., not rich."

As families move from agricultural occupations and child mortality lowers, families will have fewer and fewer children (farmers need more help, and lower mortality rates mean less need to have redundant children). These are also symptoms of becoming richer in real terms. "Rich" is a relative term in the way it is used int he post. But aside from a couple of Great Depressions and Recessions, most people are getting richer all over the world in real terms.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

The World is neither Black nor White, but increasingly Grey.


Nothing in this study mentions gender issues and you present no data or logical basis for bringing it into the discussion only bald assertion of your belief as fact. Sounds like you have some kind of bias or axe to grind to me next time do us all a favor and give a little more thought before hitting the comment button.


Perhaps some of the Freakonomics readers are aware of a Youtube video that claimed that Muslim women in European countries were having huge families (8.1 children each in France) and replacing the natives. The video is riddled with errors but reflects a more general fear about drastic demographic changes in low-fertility countries with large immigrant groups.

However I noticed later that many of the Muslim-majority countries were experiencing rapid fertility decline. Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, Bosnia, Iran and Morocco were all near or below replacement rate. While some remain high - Afghanistan, Yemen, Niger, etc. - the trend is towards dramatic declines in family size in most Muslim-majority countries.

I also found that Muslim-majority countries often had lower fertility than their non-Muslim neighbours. Many Christian-majority sub-Saharan African countries have higher fertility rates than their northern Muslim-majority neighbours. Indonesia and Malaysia have lower fertility than Papua New Guinea or Philippines.

And so on... it showed, in other words, that Islam was a poor indicator of total fertility rate. Some Muslims have big families, some very small.



I'm a woman. Educated and 34. I'm with Eric M. Jones. Don't have kids; don't want them.

Mr. T.

I'm an American who has been living and working in China for the past 9+ years. No children of my own, and I've made the decision not to have any. My work with children in the school setting more than takes care of the "itch" to nurture little ones as they make their way through the joys of growing up.

For me it's a simple matter. We add 3.1 people to our population every second of every day (on average). That's about 180 per minute . . . more than 10,000 per hour . . . more than a quarter of a million per day. That's our NET increase . . . births minus deaths. Our planet adds a Chicago-worth of population (3 million) every twelve days.

My "very" Chinese acquaintances (the ones who don't speak English, don't interact with any other non-Chinese but me) are always shocked to learn that I do not want kids of my own. They talk of the need to have people care for me when I'm old--this always strikes me as a fairly self-serving reason to bring a life into the world, but tradition is what it is. In the end,, after having tried to explain the very Western concept of choosing your own path, multiple traditions, etc., I end up having to bring out the ultimate trump card here in China: "Ni jue de di qiu de ren kou bu gou ma?": Do you think Earth's population is currently too small?

That always ends the discussion. No need to say anything more in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.


Joel Upchurch

Stewart Brand talks about this in the "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto". We now live in a world where over half of the people live in cities. City dwellers have less incentives for child bearing and higher costs in missed wages. Who knew that a paycheck is an effective contraceptive device!

It was startling for me when I realized that Mexico's birthrate is down to ZPG. The current projection are that the whole world will hit ZPG between 2040 and 2050.


Maltus is happy.


Is anyone concerned about he whole "Marching Moron" theory. I'm thinking about the Science Fiction story from the 50th's where educated people have fewer and fewer children while uneducated have more and more. Soon the small number of educated people can barely keep the world going. I don't necessarily agree with the idea myself, but isn't a possible negative effect of ZPG- who have less than Z, who has more.

LJ Hamilton

People harp on about the birth rate declining, some think this is good, others bad. Problem is that the birth rate is a relative measure! The same birthrate will have a very different effect on a population of 6 billion than it will on a population of 9 billion.

A declining birth rate is good long-term but we need to ask if it is declining enough or if the population of the world is still growing too quickly.


War and lies = poverty for 90% = next generation deciding not to perpetuate the misery.

Pretty simple really. What do they expect in a world ruled by thugs?