On "sick" states and birthrates

So, I was over at Amptoons reading a thread entitled Even For Pro-Lifers, Banning Abortion Makes No Sense, in which Amp makes a bunch of points about reducing the number of abortions that I couldn’t agree more on. Read it, go, I command you. Anyway, I went through the comments and ended up writing a response. Due to my bombastic nature, I decided to cut out one part entirely ’cause it was off on a tangent that deserved more than the page it already had. Ergo, I’m posting it here for your viewing pleasure.

So, first of all, some stats.

Abortion rates in various countries [via Amp]:

As I’ve said in the past, pro-lifers should be asking which countries have the least abortion? Belgium has an abortion rate of 6.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The Netherlands, 6.5. Germany, 7.8. Compare that to the USA’s rate of 22. Even better, compare it to countries where abortion is illegal: Egypt, 23; Brazil, 40; Chile, 50; Peru, 56.

Approximate net birth rates (births per 1000 – deaths per 1000) [via Robert, formatted for space]:

Belgium: 0.3 Netherlands: 2.4 Germany: -2.3

Compared to:

USA: 5.9 Egypt: ~18 Peru: ~14.7 Chile: ~9.6

(Source for Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, US: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004395.html) | (Source for Egypt, Peru, Chile: www.nationmaster.com)

And finally, top 5 countries with highest standard of living [via AndiF]:

1. Norway (birth rate rank 179 of 226)
2. Sweden (birth rate rank 195 0f 226)
3. Australia (birth rate rank 172 of 226)
4. Canada (birth rate rank 186 of 226)
5. Netherlands (birth rate rank 151 of 226)

I think the stats on the top five countries with the highest living standards makes a powerful statement: equal opportunity seems to lead to a true “culture of life” – higher standards of living, less unwanted pregnancies, less abortions, etc. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the countries with the highest standards of living are in general the ones that have gone a long way in encouraging equality and freedom for all and instituting good social programs. Using the birthrate stats, this achievement is often accompanied by a drop in population size, but if a society is looking for the best living standard for its current citizens wouldn’t it make sense for the birthrate to drop off until the number of people was equalized with the country’s resources to maintain a base standard of living for said people?

So, with that in mind I’d like to move on to the comment that sparked this tangent. This particular part of the debate focuses on birth rates and their correlations to “good”/”bad” societies. The main argument posited by the “negative birthrate = bad” side is that those trends will inevitably lead to the demise of the race/culture/country. I’m, obviously, going to be arguing for the “negative birthrate can be good” side.

Glaivester said:

I do believe that a society that refuses to reproduce at levels sufficient to maintain its population is a seriously sick society (unless, of course, this is a conscious and temporary trend to deal with overpopulation, e.g. Japan).

Glaivester’s implicit criticisms on those of us who choose not to reproduce aside, I’d argue that the “refusal” to reproduce at replacement levels is an indicator of a sick society, rather than a cause. Of course, my idea of “sickness” is a society in which people are not free to pursue their happiness to its fullest extent, which may or may not be Glaivester’s idea. To me, a 100% “healthy” society is an ideal one; one in which equality thrives and opportunities are available to all.

Now, since we’re using Japan as an example, I’d like to state my meagre credentials: I’ve done some minor studying of Japan, as it was one of my focus countries in my Asian Studies degree. I wouldn’t be quick to exempt them from the “sick society” label, even by Glaivester’s definition, as their conscious trend in lowering birthrates may not be as temporary as simple overpopulation awareness would be.

Overpopulation is a problem, yes, and one that I would agree the negative replacement rate is helping to combat. But other problems are also leading to the low birthrate, problems that seem to be gaining more attention as women and men make the conscious decision not to reproduce. One such problem is the institution of heterosexual marriage/partnership – because of issues such as the traditional work environment couples rarely see each other due to long working hours. Once kids are introduced to the mix, it falls to the mother (who is expected to have given up her career regardless of her feelings on the matter) to parent the children while the father is consumed by work. Not a healthy situation for any involved, so many married couples are opting out of parenthood. On the same issue, because of pressures such as those I’ve noted, many women are foregoing marriage altogether in favour of keeping their freedom to live their life as they want. These aren’t necessarily people who don’t want kids, but they are people who have decided for various reasons that it’s unacceptable to bring children into the world they live in.

These decisions have started to garner media attention. Sure, most of it is the “oh no! we have an aging population to support, what are you selfish kids doing? underpopulation is a huge problem!” alarmist malarkey, but as more people come forward with their reasons for not having kids the awareness of these social problems is spreading. Unless the government wants to try to institute forced conceptions, a policy that I doubt would fly, it has the choice of accepting the steadily declining birthrate, or improving society in order to make having children a possibility for those people who would want kids in a reasonably healthy society.

What, then, does Japan’s case say about the possible correlation between higher living standards and lower birth rates? Well, my theory is that a lower birthrate is a natural attempt to promote healing of the society. Like I said above, societies without unnatural enforced childbearing (whether it be socially mandated or legally mandated) tend to have a negative birthrate that in turn gives them a greater pool of resources from which to build a strong social network that raises the standard of living in general. So, on one level, Japan’s population drop will increase the resources available to the general populace. However, the political statement made by childfree groups like the NOKS goes beyond population concerns, or even the personal desire not to have kids.

Only time will tell whether or not these declining birthrate countries die out or level off at some point with a high standard of living for all. Still, if I had to bet money on the outcome, I’d wager that, barring unforeseen external events, countries like Norway and Sweden will continue to thrive and Japan will begin seeing some radical policy changes during the next few generations in response to the people who choose not to marry and/or have kids.

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